NPR Story
6:47 am
Mon June 11, 2012

Syrian Rebels Bring Fight To Capital

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 11:11 am

The fighting in Syria escalated again on Monday as the Syrian army pounded the central cities of Homs and Hama, two places that have been the scene of repeated clashes.

U.N. monitors confirmed mortar fire, heavy artillery and machine gun fire in the assaults. A live streaming video from Homs showed billowing smoke from explosions and the rattle of gunfire.

Activists in Homs say more than 50 people have died, and they called for immediate assistance for the scores of wounded who, they say, are being treated by paramedic and medial students.

In the capital, Damascus, the city was recovering from coordinated attacks by the Free Syrian Army, the FSA.

Damascus had largely been spared from the violence that has wracked much of the country. That changed Friday when the rebels launched a series of attacks in and around the city. Many say it was the first coordinated attack on the capital, and it raises the prospect that the fighting could be entering a new phase.

U.N. Monitors Report Multiple Attacks

U.N. observers reported that the rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a local power plant — and destroyed six Syrian army buses. Fighting began in the neighborhood of Kfar Sousa after the rebels attacked an army checkpoint, and spread to several neighborhoods close to the heart of the capital.

By Sunday, Kfar Sousa seemed to be quiet again. One 51-year-old schoolteacher who would not give her name was back at work and said she didn't hear a thing.

Her students, high school seniors, wasted no time in contradicting her.

"If you come to any house and study in any house — you hear a lot of bombs and something like that in every area of Damascus. In every minute and every hour," one of them said.

The teacher, speaking through an interpreter, said the Free Syrian Army didn't exist before the all problems started. They are just here to destroy the country, she said, while the Syrian army protects the people.

But the students contradicted her again, saying they support the FSA because it serves as the armed guard of demonstrations in Kfar Sousa. "They protect the people — and the regular army is shooting people and kill us," a student said.

The debate is as bold as the FSA attack: pro-government and anti-government opinions aired of the streets of Damascus. And the demonstrations in Kfar Sousa have become larger as the rebels' presence grows.

Across town, in the neighborhood of Miliha, young men began a spontaneous demonstration when the U.N. monitors arrived, even as soldiers watched from sand-bagged positions.

The U.N. monitors came to Miliha to investigate reports of an army attack on the FSA. They documented broken windows at the mosque, scorched parked cars and damages to a row of local shops.

Army Still Strong In Damascus

While many people in the capital are talking about a turning point, opposition activist Bsher Said pointed out that one weekend's coordinated attack is hardly definitive.

"I am against the regime — against tyranny — and against the FSA," noted Said, who has been a leader of the nonviolent wing of the protests since the uprising began.

But he acknowledges that the rebels have more support than ever from an opposition that has lost patience with peaceful means. The fighting near the heart of the capital was a military failure, he said, and only plays to the strengths of the regime.

"Even if this Free Syrian Army was really capturing those areas, it's only happening for, like, hours," Said observed. "The regime can come back and destroy everything. So this is not a good fight because the regime will come back and arrest and kill and massacre people."

In fact, the Syrian army has renewed efforts to impose control across the country.

In the Qaboon neighborhood, where the local power plant was destroyed, the army fired tank shells into houses, according to activists. And the shelling in Homs — another FSA stronghold — and in Dera'a has been as fierce as at any time since the uprising began.

The U.N. monitors are expected to investigate and file a report on a cease-fire that is clearly crumbling even in the capital.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

There was intense fighting in Syria over the weekend, in Homs and other hotspots, but also in capital, Damascus. There, the army and other security forces stormed one suburban neighborhood and continued raids elsewhere in the city, after rebels from the Free Syrian Army mounted their boldest attack yet in Damascus. It was perhaps the heaviest offensive since 300 unarmed U.N. observers arrived in April to monitor a U.N.-mandated ceasefire that is now effectively dead.

NPR's Deborah Amos is in the Syrian capital and brings us this report.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: If you live in the Damascus neighborhood of Kfar Sousa, you could hear that the uprising in Syria had entered a new phase. On Friday night, the Syrian army battled rebel soldiers for hours here, and in three other neighborhoods close to the city center. Many say this was the first coordinated attack by the Free Syrian Army in the capital.

By Sunday morning, Kfar Sosa seemed to be quiet again. This 51-year-old school teacher was back at work. She wouldn't give her name, and she said she didn't hear a thing.

No shooting at all?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BYLINE: Her students, high school seniors, couldn't wait to contradict her.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: If you come to any house and step in any house, you hear a lot of bomb and something like that, every area in Damascus - and every minute, and every hour.

BYLINE: The Free Syrian Army, the FSA, has stepped up attacks outside the capital, but Friday's offensive here was unprecedented. U.N. observers reported the rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a local power plant and destroyed six army buses. Fighting began in Kfar Sousa after the rebels attacked an army checkpoint.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BYLINE: Before all these problems, there was nothing called the Free Syrian Army, says the school teacher. They're just here to destroy the country. The Syrian army protects the people, she says.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

BYLINE: But her students contradict her again. They say they back the Free Syrian Army because the FSA is the armed guard of the demonstrations in Kfar Sousa.

You say the Free Syrian Amy is here to protect people?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT#2: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: Yes. They protect the people, and the regular army shooting people and kill us.

BYLINE: Do you have this argument in class with your teacher?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: No. I don't. No, no. Some teacher, yes. Some teacher agree us.

BYLINE: The debate is as bold as the FSA attack: pro-government and anti-government opinions aired on the streets of Damascus.

Demonstrations in Kfar Sousa had getting larger. As the presence of the rebel army grows.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Allahu akbar.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Allahu akbar.

BYLINE: Across town, in the neighborhood of Miliha, young men began a spontaneous demonstration when the U.N. monitors arrived, even as soldiers watched from sandbagged positions. The monitors came to Miliha to investigate reports of an army attack on the FSA. They documented broken windows at the mosque, scorched parked cars and damages to a row of local shops.

Many people in the capital are talking a turning point, but one weekend's coordinated attack is hardly definitive, says Bsher Said, an opposition activist. He's been a leader of the non-violent wing of the protests since the uprising began.

BSHER SAID: I am against the regime, against tyranny and against the FSA.

BYLINE: We see where the violence is taking us, he says, but he admits that the rebels have more support than ever from an opposition that's lost patience with peaceful means. The fight near the heart of the capital was a militarily failure, he says, and only plays to the strengths of the regime.

SAID: Even if this Free Syrian Army was really capturing those areas, it's only happening for like hours. The regime can come back and destroy everything. So this is not a good fight, because the regime will come back and arrest and kill and massacre people.

BYLINE: In fact, the Syrian army has renewed efforts to impose control across the country. In Qaboon, where the local power plant was destroyed, the army fired tank shells into houses, according to activists. In Homs - another stronghold of the FSA - and in Deraa, the shelling has been as fierce as at any time since the uprising began.

The U.N. monitors are expected to investigate and file a report on a cease-fire that is crumbling even in the capital.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Damascus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.