U.N. Extends Observer Mission In Syria

There was continued heavy fighting in Damascus and several other parts of Syria on Friday. As the casualties mount, thousands of civilians are fleeing their homes. Around 30,000 people have crossed the border into Lebanon in the past two days and others are heading to Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today, the U.N. Security Council extended its observer mission in Syria for another month. In Damascus, shelling and mortar attacks intensified, and Brazil became the latest nation to order the evacuation of its embassy staff from the Syrian capital. From Beirut, NPR's Peter Kenyon has this update.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Opposition activists have been uploading videos of clashes and bloodshed for over a year now, but not from the very heart of the capital, Damascus.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (foreign language spoken)

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KENYON: The cameraman cries out as he pans across bodies lying on a downtown street, as gunfire rings out. This is what Syrian officials have been telling the nation would never happen in Damascus. But despite the massive firepower the army has brought to bear, a significant portion of the capital is no longer safe.

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KENYON: After briefly taking at least part of the central Midan neighborhood, rebel Free Syrian Army fighters were driven out by loyalist tanks and armored vehicles. Damascus-based activist Lena al-Shami says the Free Syrian Army knows it's fighting on the regime's turf in the capital, so they have to rely on guerrilla tactics.

LENA AL-SHAMI: The strategy of the Free Syrian Army here is to hit and run. It is the stronghold, the threshold of Assad's regime. They are not going to give up on the capital that easily.

KENYON: Shami says the reports coming in today have been brutal, including a three-story building that collapsed, reportedly crushing those inside. She says many Syrians who fled Homs and other besieged cities in earlier clashes wound up in the Qaboun and Jobar neighborhoods of the capital, only to find themselves being shelled again.

AL-SHAMI: It is really a very sad humanitarian story happening today. There were so many refugees and people from Homs who are in the areas of Jobar and Qaboun. Now, Qaboun and Jobar are under shelling, so Homsi people have to leave again, but this time with nowhere to go.

KENYON: U.N. refugee officials say the exodus of civilians has spiked dramatically this week, with thousands crossing to Turkey and Jordan, and at least 20,000 pouring into Lebanon. State television, meanwhile, reported the funeral for three top officials killed in Wednesday's bomb attack and confirmed that Intelligence Chief Hisham Bekhtiar had died of his wounds, raising this week's death toll from President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle to four.

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KENYON: State TV viewers were mainly treated to patriotic music videos, however, which mingled footage of the armed forces with images of bearded terrorists, along with pictures of President Obama and Arab Gulf state leaders. Some Syrians say they're glad the U.N. Security Council will keep its observer mission for another month, but the massive movement of civilians is a clear sign that few are expecting diplomacy to bring calm anytime soon. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut.

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