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Deadly Strikes at Syrian Hospitals, Schools; Russia Says "Cessation" Does Not Apply to Its Airstrikes; Imagine a World. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired February 15, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN GUEST HOST (voice-over): Hello, everyone. Tonight, deadly strikes on hospitals in Northern Syria. Doctors without Borders

calls it deliberate. We will have the latest from them.

Meanwhile, inside Aleppo, one doctor trying to save lives tells us things have never been so bad.


Honestly, the situation overall, getting worse every time I'm coming here, amount of destruction is unbelievable.


HOLMES: And later in the program, some much-needed hope: from maximum security jail to Grammy-nominated music. We'll introduce you to the sounds

of the Zomba Prison Project.





HOLMES: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes, in Atlanta for Christiane.

Well, once again in Syria, places of healing have become host to murder. Strikes on four medical facilities and two schools in Northern Syria,

killing at least 22 people, leaving eight missing, presumed dead.

This hospital in Idlib is the second supported by Doctors without Borders - - or MSF -- to be destroyed in the past seven days. MSF says either Russia or the Assad regime was responsible for the attack, which it called


Meanwhile, Syria's ambassador in Moscow blaming America's Air Force; after a separate attack on a school and hospital in Azaz, Turkey's prime minister

blaming a Russian cruise missile, launched from the Caspian Sea.

Nearly 700 medical personnel have been killed in Syria's five-year-long civil war, that's according to the U.S.-based nonprofit Physicians for

Human Rights. And it's not the first time Russia has been accused of killing civilians in Syria, charges rejected by Prime Minister Dmitry

Medvedev in Munich this weekend.


DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER: There is no evidence of our bombarding civilians, even though everyone is accusing us but that's just

not true.


HOLMES: Andre Heller Perache is the head of programmes for MSF U.K. He joins me now from London.

And thanks for doing so. This is not the first time, as we said, that medical facilities have been hit, far from it.

Do you believe that your facility was deliberately targeted?

ANDRE HELLER PERACHE, MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES: Well, the information that we have that came from the field regarding this attack was that the nature

of the strikes, the missile strikes that hit repeatedly that target over the course of about a 90-minute period of time, indicates to us that it was

targeted deliberately, yes.

HOLMES: And so, when the Syrian ambassador in Moscow, who was quoted earlier, as saying, Russia didn't do it, the U.S. did, you're not going to

take that at face value?

PERACHE: I don't have any specific information that I can really offer about speculation of who targeted and how. I mean, I think it's all been

said, already, what indications were coming from the field.

What's important is to look at the broader issue on this as well as responsible parties but to look at the issue of the countless number of

hospitals and other medical facilities that have been hit, that are providing the only vital lifeline for the civilian population, when they

have emergency medical needs.

HOLMES: And you mentioned that. And it's worth talking a little bit more about the Physicians for Human Rights group, saying that, since 2011, they

have documented 336 attacks on 240 medical facilities. As we said earlier, nearly 700 medical personnel killed.

This, of course, at a time when health services, the need for them, couldn't be greater.

How will these attacks impact your work?

PERACHE: Well, these attacks have been impacting our work ever since this conflict started. And MSF, Medecins sans Frontieres, Doctors without

Borders, started working to run medical operations but mainly also to support networks of Syrian doctors, you know, through supplies and through,

you know, medical aid, fuel for the generators to run the operating theaters.

This has been a feature of this conflict ever since the beginning of it.


PERACHE: It's shocking to us that so many violations of international humanitarian law have taken place. I mean, we're talking -- the figure

that you had cited, 240 facilities struck. Sadly, that's already gone up over the period of time that that report was covered. That was only up

until November.

This year, inform indicates that some 17 facilities have been struck in addition to that. This is ongoing. This is every day in Syria.

And yet, there still remains brave medical workers in the field, Syrian doctors and supporting personnel, nurses, who continue to risk their lives

to provide the most basic components of survival to their fellow citizens.

HOLMES: I was going to ask you more about that.

How are the staff coping, locals and foreigners, as well?

I mean, it must be unbelievable to be working in a hospital where you would feel you should be safe but, yet, sometimes, you must feel like you're a


How are they?

PERACHE: Well, I can't speak on behalf of everybody who's out there working. What I know is that everyone is well aware of the risks at this

point, in doing work that's medical, because, sadly, targets that are protected, such as hospitals, schools, things like this, vital components

of the infrastructure, have been targeted on a widespread level throughout the country.

It's utterly tragic that so many people have lost their lives trying to do what's right in this, that this continues in violation of humanitarian law,

which protects such sites.

HOLMES: What type of person does this work?

Not just the locals there in Syria but around the world?

I mean, we saw a similar tragedy in Afghanistan. I mean, this does go on.

What sort of person does this work?

PERACHE: I want to highlight how important it is that really the Syrians, who are leading this aid operation, are on. It's not Doctors without

Borders, MSF, coming in and leading the way. It's really them who inspire us to support them. The Syrians are the ones who are doing this work.

And what kind of people are they?

They're extremely dedicated, brave, dignified individuals, who desperately need more support and who need for attacks like this to stop.

HOLMES: I wanted to ask you, too, do you feel that the cessation of hostilities that's been broken, do you have any faith in it?

PERACHE: Well, sadly, in this conflict, there is very little that inspires faith, since the beginning. It seems to get worse and worse; even when we

think that things can't degrade any further than they have, they seem to, somehow.

Should there be a political breakthrough that enables a bit of relief for the immense suffering that's taking place in that country?

Obviously, we would be very happy to see that and we would welcome it.

Yet, sadly, I think that people on the ground, as well as us, in terms of our activities and our support work, we still have to expect the worst.

HOLMES: Tragically. Andre Heller Perache, head of programmes for MSF U.K., our thanks for coming in. Appreciate it.

PERACHE: Thank you for having me.

HOLMES: And our condolences, as well.

Well, as we've said, two hospitals and a school were hit in Azaz, a city not that far from Aleppo. Doctors there fear for their lives, as they try

to help local residents under constant bombardment from Russian-backed Syrian troops. Now we reached Dr. Iyad Azrak, who told us the situation

has never been so bad.


DR. IYAD AZRAK, SYRIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL SOCIETY: I have been coming here every six months for the past couple of years and, honestly, the situation

overall is getting worse every time I'm coming here.

The amount of destruction is unbelievable. It's really the destruction that's affecting every street in Aleppo. I arrived about a week ago;

basically a lot of the bombing is happening in the roads and targeting markets and other civilian areas in the city.

In the hospital where I treat patients, most of the patients we are getting, simply women, children and bystanders where the area has been

bombed. There is always a concern of having the hospitals targeted. Most of the targets actually are underground, because of the consistent

bombardment of those hospitals.

Today, only, we heard of six medical facilities that were bombarded, a couple in Idlib area, a couple in Aleppo area. One of them actually was a

pediatrics and O.B. hospital, I mean, women with their unborn kids still and killed with those attacks.

Compared to six months ago when I was here, you can hear the Russian or Syrian fighter jets all the time, over your head. It's really scary


And with the bombardment that's happening, a lot of people are trying to escape. But, unfortunately, the areas they're escaping to also get

bombarded. Some people actually came back the last couple of days, because they couldn't find a --


AZRAK: -- safer place to go. First time I actually walked outside, I hear that fighter jet, I run back to the hospital right away, because I didn't -

- you know, because I was afraid.

It's amazing to see how people try to get along their life on regular basis, despite everything happening. I saw a couple kids, actually,

walking in front of me one day and I asked them, you know, aren't you afraid of what's happening?

They looked at me and said, we're from here. We see this every day.

And I'm talking about maybe 9-, 10-year-old kids. For the city, there's a significant shortage of clean water and this is a real problem, so you're

seeing children with diarrhea all the time, adults having all kinds of G.I. problems because of the problems with water.

Electricity is provided by some generators around but there is also a shortness of that. And a lot of homes, they do not have any electricity.

I think it's very important to stress the fact that we do need to secure some sort of humanitarian corridor for the city. I mean, there is a

significant fear that this city will be another Srebrenica in the world.

I mean, we're not talking -- you know, we're talking about 300,000 people. Some aid coming tomorrow, but what about next month?

The road is being bombarded every day and we're talking about the roads that provide humanitarian aid to the city. There's so many requests that

the United Nations, according to its reports, that have been denied by the Syrian regime.

And it's kind of, technically, it's besieged because of these attacks on the roads. It is the responsibility of international community to provide

safe haven for the people in Aleppo and the rest of Syria.


HOLMES: Well, as war continues to drive millions of refugees into the arms of foreign countries, the migration in itself can often be as dangerous as

the conflict.

In a stark reminder of this, the Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, covered the columns of Berlin's concert hall with life jackets used by refugees who

crossed the Mediterranean; 14,000 were used to adorn the landmark's iconic pillars.

You can see it there.

After a break, will the guns fall silent in Syria, if only for a moment?

And what could a cease-fire mean for the civilians on the ground?

Find out, after this.




HOLMES: And welcome back to the program.

Major world leaders sparked a flicker of hope for peace on Friday when they agreed to pause the fighting in Syria. But as the truce meant to get into

effect later this week is looking more and more tenuous, as Russian and Syrian forces continue to pound their targets in pursuit of Aleppo and


The Syrian army feeling confident, dropping these leaflets from the sky, urging rebels to surrender and telling the Syrian people that victory is


So is a political solution even possible?

Here now is Randa Slim, an expert on peace negotiations and the region with the Middle East Institute. And also Hassan Hassan, author of "ISIS:

Inside the Army of Terror."


HOLMES: Randa, let's start with you. Russia says it will continue hitting what it calls terrorist groups but therein lies the rub, doesn't it?

One country's terrorist group is another country's ally. Russia hitting fighters that, you know, the U.S. and others deem moderate; Turkey

considers the Kurds terrorists.

Could distinctions on who's a terrorist and who's not render the cessations of hostilities meaningless?

Randa, do you hear me?

It doesn't appear --

RANDA SLIM, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: Oh, is the question for me?

HOLMES: Yes, indeed, it was. Carry on.

SLIM: I'm hearing, I thought the -- OK. OK, I'm sorry.

Look, I think the negotiating situation today, of -- at the negotiation table, is not conducive to a peace settlement.

The Munich agreement was consisted of two parts. One is to have this humanitarian assistance delivered. And then you have cessation of


I think what we might see is some temporary cessation of hostilities here and there (ph), to allow some humanitarian assistance to reach the besieged

areas. But I don't see -- I don't hold -- I don't have high hopes for the cessation of hostilities or for a permanent truce.

As I said, the military equation on the ground is very much in favor of the regime and the regime is aided by the Russians and Hezbollah and the

Iranians is going to continue with its attempt to reach the border with Turkey. And in doing so, it's going to lay siege and starve to Aleppo, as

they have done in Homs.

HOLMES: Hassan, let's bring you in now.

Azaz, where the medical facilities were hit, let's talk about that. It's an important strategic target, not just for the Kurds but for ISIS as well.

And to complicate things further, Turkey says it won't stand by if the Kurds, who they consider terrorists, take Azaz.

Do you fear a Kurdish capture of Azaz could bring Turkey directly into this conflict?

HASSAN HASSAN, AUTHOR: Absolutely. Azaz has become a very important area for almost everyone involved in the conflict. It's very important for the

Russians and the regime, because they want to cut the rebel supply lines from Aleppo to Turkey.

So it's a very important area. For the Kurds, it's also important, because they want to link their cantouns (ph) in Northern Syria for ISIS. It's

really important, because that's the area where they were expelled from in early 2014 by the rebel forces in these areas, which is why it's important

because I fear that, with the continuous or continuing, let's say, campaign, relentless campaign by the Russians, that will create some

opening for ISIS to actually come back, two years after it, you know, several attempts to go back to this area.

HOLMES: Is part of the reason for that because the militia's working with the Syrian government, may be able to force rebels out but they don't have

local support to hold the territory?

HASSAN: Absolutely. What we've seen in recent weeks is that most of the fighting in Northern Syria, whether in Aleppo or Idlib or even in the

eastern, the countrysides of Hama, was actually spearheaded by foreign militias affiliated to the government.

So they come from Iraq or they're supported by Iran and even from Afghanistan. The problem with these militias is that they are quite

effective against the rebels. They could actually take areas when it comes to surgical operations in these areas.

Now the problem is, when they want to hold territory, that's when it becomes tricky for the regime. And the fear is that, when that situation

happens, the rebels will be on the retreat, yes, but that would also create an opening for both ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra from inside Aleppo, inside the

north, to grow and take, you know, establish a foothold for themselves.


HOLMES: Randa Slim, let's bring you back into the conversation here. I'm wondering if you wonder whether the notion -- if the notion of a

territorial battle for Syria disappears under the weight of the Russian bombing?

Do you see the opposition forces morphing into more of an Iraq-style insurgency and that this would just grind on for years?

SLIM: Yes. The scenario that I see Syria evolving power is the following. Is that we're going to have the western part of Syria under strong control

of Assad and the militia supporting Assad. And then we're going to have the southeast of Syria under ISIS.

And then we're going to -- and Jabhat al-Nusra and others -- and then we're going to have the northeast part of Syria under the --


SLIM: -- control of the Kurdish forces.

Now the armed groups that are inside Aleppo, many of which are not affiliated with Jabhat Al-Nusra and are sustaining the onslaught from the

regime, from the Russians, from ISIS, the most likely scenario is that they are going to morph into or divide into three groups.

One group will join ISIS. A second group will join Jabhat Al-Nusra. And then a third group of them will go back and join their families, which are

refugees in neighboring countries -- Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey -- which creates another source of threats to these neighboring countries.

HOLMES: I'm wondering, when you look at the battlefield -- and Randa, this is for you again. When you look at it, you've got Iran, you've got Russia,

you've got Turkey. And let's even mention the Saudis, all doing pretty much their own thing.

Is the West out of cards to play?

SLIM: The U.S. and Europe are now out of cards to play and that's, I would argue, by our own doing. I mean, the Russians went into Syria with a very

clear eye. You fight and talk for the objective of strengthening Assad and making sure that Assad is a permanent fixture of a future Syria. And they

are on the road to achieving that.

Now the United States keeps asking about our objective in Syria. Initially it was for Assad to step aside but we were not willing to do anything to

make that happen.

Then when ISIS happened, it was about fighting Assad and the objective of ousting Assad has been pushed to the side. And in the process, we have

lost leverage over armed groups that we need to fight ISIS, Sunni Arab armed groups that are now fighting ISIS. We lost their support, because

they believe or they think that we have abandoned them.

But also, we are losing our leverage over our regional allies, primarily Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are going now to do what they want to do in

pursuing their own objective, even if sometimes, if it's to the detriment of U.S. interests in Syria.

HOLMES: Right.

Hassan, Aleppo is predominantly Sunni. And we do see a lot of these foreign militias, predominantly Shia, taking part in the fight.

Are you concerned that this sectarian angle, which there's been a lid kept on it a little bit, when it comes to places like Aleppo, do you think that

could erupt the sectarian angle and become a whole lot more Shia-Sunni?

HASSAN: Absolutely. I think it's one of the fault lines that the outsiders are not dealing with. We've seen recently a trend, which is that

these foreign militias, they've been fighting alongside the Syrian forces for a long time.

But recently, they've been also doing some optics that are actually increasing the sectarian tensions. They are, for example, taking on

mosques, Sunni mosques, and they're shouting anti-Sunni slogans. And Suleimani, Kassem Suleimani, the Iranian spymaster, was also celebrating in

Southern Aleppo along Shia militias from Iraq, the victory of breaking the siege around an air base between Raqqah and Aleppo.

The danger is that -- and this predominantly Sunni city, like we said, that will increase tensions. That will also be seen as these are not locals.

So that will force many people, many Syrians, to gravitate towards groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS, like I said.

And actually Jabhat Al-Nusra has -- it's not speculation. Jabhat Al-Nusra has been attempting to go back to Aleppo -- well, they exist in Aleppo but

what they've been trying to do is replicate the scenario in Idlib, when they dominated after the liberation of Idlib in that area.

So they want to do the same thing in Aleppo and they've been sending convoys from outside Aleppo and from the north, and Northern Syria into the

center of Aleppo, preparing for this scenario.

HOLMES: And we didn't even get to the point of the Americans having always fostered a relationship with the Kurds in Syria and now watching as the

Russians court and back the Kurds and how that changes the dynamic.

I wish we had more time; we do not. Randa Slim, expert on peace negotiations with the region and with the Middle East institute; Hassan

Hassan, author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror," my thanks to you both. We could discuss this endlessly and we probably shall, thank you.

When we come back here on the program, we imagine an entirely different world, where a troupe of prisoners in one of Malawi's brutal jails strike a

chord with music's bigwigs. Zomba Prison Project goes to the Grammys -- that's next.





HOLMES: Finally tonight, later this evening, Malawi will find itself contending for its first-ever Grammy award. Now this is an inspiring story

but the source of their musical triumph strikes an unexpected note. Imagine a world where the sound of music is found in a maximum security




HOLMES (voice-over): And as you can hear, the Zomba Prison Project managed to find harmony amongst the discord in a Malawi jail.

The inmates-cum-band members once used music as an escape from the overcrowded prison. Now on the album, "I Have No Everything Here," they've

proved a hit, earning a nomination in the Grammy's Best World Music category.

Produced by Grammy winner Ian Brennan, it puts Malawi's legal missteps literally on the record. While the proceeds are going towards legal

representation for band members -- and it does seem to be having an impact as well -- three female members of the project have been released from

Zomba since the album's debut, perhaps a good omen for another victory tonight.

On that musical note, that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can also listen to our podcast, you can see us online at;

follow me on Twitter @HolmesCNN. Thanks for watching, everyone. And goodbye from Atlanta.