Violence Intensifies In Syria

Violence is intensifying in Syria, with as many as 70 dead in the past 24 hours. Among the casualties were Syrian army defectors who clashed with government forces near the southern city of Deraa. There was also much bloodshed in the central city of Homs, another hotbed of resistance to the Assad regime.

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In Syria, November is shaping up to be the bloodiest month in an eight month-long anti-government uprising. Just yesterday, at least 70 people were killed.

NPR's Kelly McEvers is following the story from Beirut.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: A London-based human rights organization that conducts interviews with relatives of victims says most of the deaths were in southern Syria, where the uprising first began back in March. The Syrian Human Rights Observatory says more than 20 civilians were killed and at least 34 Syrian soldiers died when they clashed with army defectors.

In this video posted online, a Syrian tank burns as gunfire goes on in the background. Those recording the video yell, God is great.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Allah Akbar.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Allah Akbar.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Allah Akbar.

MCEVERS: The army defectors claim to be protecting civilians who go out to protest against the government. But this latest violence has many analysts here in the region concerned that what has been a mostly unarmed protest movement is turning into a civil war.

Syria has come under strict censure by the Arab League in recent days. The League says Syria has provoked this violence by shooting at protesters and detaining thousands of others. A recent Human Rights Watch report says abuses by the Syrian regime amount to crimes against humanity.

The Arab League has voted to suspend Syria as early as tomorrow, if steps aren't taken to end violence. The only other Arab countries to be suspended from the League were Libya, in recent months, and Egypt, after it made peace with Israel back in 1979.

King Abdullah of Jordan has become the first Arab leader to call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. In this interview with the BBC, Abdullah said it's time for Assad to make way for a new phase in Syrian political life.

KING ABDULLAH II IBN AL-HUSSEIN: I would believe if I were in his shoes, I would step down.

MCEVERS: After the interview aired, the Jordanian Embassy in Syria's capital was attacked by an angry mob.

The U.S. and its European allies have already called for the Syrian president to step down. They hope pressure from Arab countries will force Russia and China to back a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria. Russia and China previously vetoed such a resolution.

The Arab League has been meeting with members of the Syrian opposition this week. The Syrian regime has accused the League of conspiring with the West to bring it down. League officials are expected to convene again in Morocco tomorrow, with Syria at the top of their agenda.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.

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