Syrian Violence Yet To Prompt International Action

At least 63 anti-government protestors were killed Friday by Syrian security forces. The rising death toll has provoked widespread outrage, but so far there's been only limited international pressure on the Syrian government to end its harsh crackdown. Host Scott Simon speaks with NPR's Deborah Amos, who is monitoring the increasing anti-government protests in Syria.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

And the Syrian government continues its bloody crackdown on the burgeoning opposition movement there. At least 63 anti-government protesters were killed yesterday by Syrian security forces.

Sharpshooters and police were deployed when thousands rushed to the streets after Friday prayers.

(Soundbite of crowd and gunfire)

SIMON: It was the deadliest day yet in 11 weeks of protests against the Syrian government. More protests are likely today at the funerals for the victims of yesterday's violence.

The rising death toll has provoked widespread outrage, but so far only limited international pressure on the Syrian government to end its harsh crackdown.

NPR's Deborah Amos is in Southern Turkey, close to the Syrian border, and joins us now. Deb, thanks for being with us.

DEBORAH AMOS: Thank you very much, Scott.

SIMON: And help us understand the difference in the response of the international community between the conflict in Libya and this crackdown in Syria.

AMOS: Syria has the most complicated uprising, and that's because of the population inside. It's more diverse than Egypt, Tunisia, or Libya. This is a place where minorities in the country remain government supporters. And the other reason is because of Syria's strategic position.

Many of the neighbors, including Israel, worry that the fall of President Bashar al-Assad could destabilize the region. Unlike Egypt, the Syrian military has remained loyal. The top generals are members of the minority Alawite sect, as the president's family and the ruling elite.

And these military men are willing to carry out orders to snuff out the revolt by any means necessary. Now, the U.S. and Europe has imposed sanctions on top Syrian officials. But getting the U.N. to even condemn the violence has been difficult.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her frustration yesterday when she said we do not have agreement on the security council on dealing with Syria.

SIMON: Yet the protesters come out every Friday after prayers

AMOS: They do.

SIMON: Even though they know there's a good chance some of them will be arrested, and even tortured or killed.

AMOS: That is correct. And despite the heaviest crackdown in the southern town of Daraa, that's where the protests began, the military has besieged the town for weeks. Syrians still came out on Friday. The town of Hama exploded with more than 50,000 people on the street, according to activists. They know when they come out of those mosques that they are going to meet with gunfire, and you can see them scatter when the shooting started.

You can see all of that on the videos. On Friday, the Syrian government shut down the Internet, and most of the cell phone service in the country. That was to block a tool for organizing. But still the videos got out. And so that means that some people had to sneak across the border into Jordan or Lebanon. They had to get to an Internet cafe to upload those images.

I'm in Turkey this week to cover the first meeting of the Syrian opposition, and some of the young activists actually made it across the border. It was the first time to meet people that we've only talked to on the phone.

They say they're not going stop the protests. They say it will take time. It's going to be costly, but they are adamant.

SIMON: NPR's Deb Amos near the Syrian border in Turkey. Thanks so much.

AMOS: Thank you.

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