Despite Cease-Fire Push, Violence Escalates In Syria

The situation in Syria got much more troubling this week, as thousands of people around the country went to protest against the government, government troops continued to fire on protesters, and armed rebels clashed with government troops in what's looking more and more like an insurgency. All this despite a push by the United Nations for a cease-fire.

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The situation in Syria has deteriorated further this week. Government troops once again opened fire on thousands of protesters, armed rebels continued their own resistance, which looks more and more like an insurgency. All this despite a push by the United Nations fro a cease-fire. NPR's Kelly McEvers reports.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: It's hard to know where to start when it comes to Syria. First, let's go the protests that continued despite the fact that violence is on the rise.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTING)

MCEVERS: In cities and towns around the country yesterday, the weekly Friday protests that have gone on for more than a year demanded the fall of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. But analysts say Assad's grip on power remains strong. After driving rebels from anti-government strongholds and instilling fear in the population, they say Assad has gained the upper hand. So now, rebels are turning to more insurgent-style tactics, like attacking compounds where soldiers live and blowing up tanks with homemade bombs. Then there's the central city of Homs, where fighting between pro- and anti-government troops has been the most intense in recent weeks. Violence in that city is starting to look like a self-contained but brutal civil war. Residents there say government troops are attacking the few neighborhoods that were thought to be safe. We reached one resident who only goes by the name Fadi. With shelling going on in the background, he says government troops first bombard neighborhoods where civilians and anti-government rebels are hiding out.

FADI: But now, there are shells and bombardments, as you hear. It's something unbelievable. I have to find a way to get my family out.

MCEVERS: After the shelling forces most people to flee and reduces these neighborhoods to rubble, residents and activists say soldiers and pro-government militias go house to house, searching for anyone who remains, arresting them and sometimes killing them on sight. These alleged massacres of mostly Sunni families and rebels have sparked sectarian reprisals. In a recent report, New York-based Human Rights Watch says rebel forces have retaliated against mostly Alawite militias. The report says the rebels are committing atrocities themselves. Sarah Leah Whitson, who heads the Middle East and North Africa division for Human Rights Watch, says this might be one reason why, unlike with Libya, the international community has so far hesitated to support the Syrian rebels.

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: And that's why it behooves the armed opposition groups to show that they are capable of abiding by international law and respecting the rights of Syrians on whatever side of the political spectrum they may be.

MCEVERS: Syrian opposition activists claim the atrocities committed by the regime are much more severe, that pro-government troops kill women and children, while they only target combatants. But they admit that mistakes have been made. Meanwhile, the U.N. and Arab League continue with a peace mission that could not be called anything but stalled. The U.N. Security Council has issued a nonbinding statement supporting a six-point peace plan calling for an immediate cease-fire. But so far there are no signs that the violence will let up. The European Union recently announced new sanctions against the inner circle of President Assad, including his wife, Asma Assad. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt says the aim is to further isolate the Syrian regime.

FOREIGN MINISTER CARL BILDT: The killing has to stop, the violence has to stop. There has to be a dialogue, there has to be a political process.

MCEVERS: Without a more binding resolution from the U.N. Security Council, though, or threats of further punishment from the international community, analysts here say it's hard to see why the Syrian regime would change its tactics now. Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.

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