Here's a recap of the latest events in war-torn Syria
At least 50 people were killed when a hospital in Aleppo was hit by an airstrike
In Syria, the blood continues to flow, civilians continue to die and the tears keep falling.
This week, a hospital was bombed. Doctors were killed, the building was reduced to rubble and Syrians were left – in the middle of a war – with little access to medical care.
Syria, a jewel of a country on the eastern end of the Mediterranean, remains convulsed by war, eating itself from within. It is smaller than 17 of the 50 American states, yet it commands the attention of diplomats the world over.
The tide of refugees from the country is threatening to overwhelm the European Union and crush its treasured system of open borders between most member countries.
And after more than five years of civil war, President Bashar al-Assad – propped up in part by Russian air support – still clings to power. His enemies remain implacable, and a negotiated solution seems hard to envision.
A truce negotiated in February among some of the groups fighting in Syria now “hangs by a thread,” a U.N. official said this week – and that is putting it generously. It appears to be collapsing.
What’s happened in the last few days?
Not much that is encouraging – and plenty that is worrying.
Fighting has intensified. In places where it had died down it has now flared up again, with a vengeance – in Aleppo, for example, in the north of the country.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 220 civilians, including more than 50 women and children, have been killed in in the city over the last eight days. Most have been killed by regime airstrikes on rebel-held areas of the city, according to the observatory, which opposes Assad’s regime. But some civilians also have been killed by rebel shelling of government-controlled areas.
On Friday alone, the state-run SANA news agency reported, 16 people died in Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory on Human Rights said 11 died there; it was unclear whether the accounts overlapped. A medical group reported the destruction of a health clinic, without apparent injury.
And on Wednesday, according to the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders, a hospital in Aleppo was hit by an airstrike and reduced to rubble. At least 50 people were killed, including two doctors, said the organization, which is also known by its French acronym, MSF.
“MSF categorically condemns this outrageous targeting of yet another medical facility in Syria,” said Muskilda Zancada, head of the organization’s operations in Syria. “This devastating attack has destroyed a vital hospital in Aleppo, and the main referral center for pediatric care in the area.”
The organization said an estimated 250,000 people remain in the city, “which has seen dramatic increases in levels of bombardments, fighting and fatalities in recent weeks.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the attack and blamed it on the Syrian government.
What’s going on with peace talks?
On Thursday, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said the country’s nationwide “cessation of hostilities” is under threat of collapse, and a humanitarian disaster is unfolding.
The truce, de Mistura said, “hangs by a thread” and needs to be “urgently revitalized.”
And the peace talks are in jeopardy – on hiatus, in fact. The Western-backed opposition delegation walked out of the Geneva talks earlier this month to protest what is says are ceasefire violations by the government, as well as a decrease in the humanitarian aid being allowed to reach areas under siege.
De Mistura is urging the United States and Russia to intervene “at the highest level” to ensure the talks continue.
Why Russia is pulling its troops out
In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced, in a surprise move, that he was pulling the majority of Russian troops out of Syria. He said the aims of the six-month deployment had largely been achieved.
The Russian forces – and particularly its air power – played a decisive role in propping up Assad at a time when he appeared in jeopardy. Putin telephoned Assad himself to let him know about the withdrawal.
Assad’s position appears more secure now than it did in September, when the Russian deployment began and officials said that the terrorist group ISIS and other Assad opponents were its targets.
But Russia may have paid a price for its involvement.
On October 31 – in an incident that may or may not be related specifically to Syria – a Russian passenger plane exploded over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard. Investigators believe a bomb was smuggled on board. ISIS claimed responsibility and posted what it claimed was a photo of the bomb.
And on November 24, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that had been flying over Syria, claiming the plane had strayed into Turkish airspace and ignored warnings to change course. A pilot was killed.
Russia denied that the plane had violated Turkish airspace. But the United States said it had verified Turkey’s claim.