Kelly McEvers

Recent sectarian violence has claimed the lives of more than a dozen people in Lebanon. The fighting was sparked by the conflict in neighboring Syria. Analysts fear that without uniform leadership in Lebanon, and a workable solution to stop the violence in Syria, a regional sectarian war is in the offing.

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The United Nations Security Council has condemned Syria for an attack in the central part of the country yesterday that left at least 90 people dead, dozens of them children. The council once again called on Syria's government to halt further violence against its civilians. Here's NPR's Kelly McEvers with more from Beirut.

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Ever since Syria descended into a brutal armed conflict, there have been fears that the sectarian bloodletting would spill over its borders. That may have come to pass. This past week, clashes in neighboring Lebanon have left more than a dozen people dead. NPR's Kelly McEvers has the story from Beirut.

There was a deadly clash in northern Syria on Tuesday, but it was different than many other such episodes over the past 14 months of the Syrian uprising.

This time, United Nations monitors were watching. The monitors are in Syria to keep an eye on the government forces and the opposition, who are supposed to be observing a cease-fire and opening a dialogue.

But the trouble Tuesday began with a funeral the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.

The international peace plan for Syria is nearly a month old, and signs are pointing to a conflict that is becoming even more entrenched.

In the latest blow, two massive explosions rocked the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus, on Thursday, killing at least 55 people and injuring hundreds more.

It was Friday, April 27, when a car bomb exploded in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan. Syrian state television showed soldiers and civilians running from the smoke of the explosion under a bridge. Then the camera closed in on streams of blood and body parts.

The Syrian regime's narrative is that the uprising that has gripped the country for more than a year is not a case of people protesting and sometimes fighting for their rights; the official stance is that it's terrorism.

They called him "the spray man" for his graffiti that appeared all over the Syrian capital of Damascus. But in truth, 23-year-old Nour Hatem Zahra was an activist like any other activist.

He started protesting in Syria last spring. Back then, the opposition thought it would only take a few months to get rid of President Bashar Assad, as it had in Tunisia and Egypt.

Then Syrian forces started killing protesters, detaining them, torturing them. And the people started fighting back.

The U.N.-brokered cease-fire in Syria keeps unraveling. Syrian government troops were supposed to pull their tanks and soldiers out of cities and towns, while rebels were supposed to lay down their arms.

Yet hundreds of people have died in recent days, according to activists. And in some areas, visits by U.N. observers have been followed by intense violence.

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Since the uprising began in Syria last year, there have been a lot of stories about soldiers who have defected from the army to join the rebels. This rebel group is loosely known as the Free Syrian Army, and it's starting to look more and more like an insurgency.

Not all soldiers who leave the army, however, decide to join these rebels. Those who simply escape the army altogether offer a rare glimpse into a military they say is committing unspeakable atrocities and a rebel force that's fighting back with its own brutality.

When protesters took to the streets of Syria last year, one of those who joined in was Abu Azad — a pseudonym he uses to protect his safety.

A member of the Kurdish ethnic group, Abu Azad helped organize protests in Kurdish areas, calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down. But Abu Azad recently found out he was wanted by Syrian authorities.

"They were chasing me and they want to kill me," he says.

We can't tell you where Hussam and Rania live, but we can tell you they used to live in Syria's capital, Damascus.

Hussam was a creative director at a small marketing company he founded with a friend. Rania was the morning host for a radio station owned by the cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Then came the protests all around Syria. Then came the phone call.

"The radio station called me, at home, and they said, 'Rania we have to say the truth,' " Rania says.

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A Death In Syria

Mar 16, 2012

The United Nations estimates some 8,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began one year ago. One of them was Abdulrahman Abu Lebdeh, 24, who was killed in the town of Tal Kalakh last fall. His parents, his brother and one of his friends, who was also an activist, told the story of his life and death to NPR's Kelly McEvers and Lava Selo.

Last February, a group of young people were arrested for spray-painting graffiti on the walls of their school in the southern Syrian city of Daraa. They were beaten and interrogated. A year ago this Sunday, people went out to protest those arrests. And so began the Syrian uprising — an uprising that in some parts of Syria has turned into an armed insurgency and seen government troops respond with untold brutality. In all, thousands of people have died, with no clear end in sight.

If you're trying to escape the turmoil in Syria for the calm in Jordan, you have two choices.

You can go the legal way. Just get in a car and try to drive across the border. But that's not very easy these days. The Syrian government isn't letting many people out.

Or you can try the illegal way. Wait until nightfall, climb through a barbed-wire fence. It sounds dodgy, but if you make it over, you'll actually be welcomed by the Jordanian army. Troops will take your name, give you a drink of water, let you rest.

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Western governments are still debating whether to help Syria's rebels. But as they debate, the rebels are finding ways to help themselves.

INSKEEP: Syrians continue arming themselves, even after they retreated from the battered city of Homs. This week, the United Nations' humanitarian chief finally toured that city, including a rebel neighborhood, now mostly abandoned.

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A key rebel stronghold in the central Syrian city of Homs has fallen to the Syrian army.

Residents fled as government forces bombarded the city's Baba Amr neighborhood for nearly a month. On Thursday, the rebels withdrew.

When the Syrian uprising began nearly a year ago, Baba Amr saw regular, daily protests. Then after months of being shot, detained and tortured, protesters began taking up arms. Those armed civilians were later joined by defectors from the Syrian military, and together, they called themselves the Free Syrian Army.

Yemen has become the latest Arab country to depose its dictator.

On Monday, the country's longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is set to hand power to his vice president, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, as part of an agreement reached late last year. The agreement was backed by the U.S., Europe and Yemen's powerful Gulf Arab neighbors. It was ratified by more than 60 percent of Yemen's voters earlier this week.

Now, the real work begins.

Millions of people in Yemen turned out to vote Tuesday in an unusual presidential election. There was only one candidate and only one way to vote — yes.

That candidate, Abdrabu Mansour Hadi, was the vice president under Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for more than three decades. Saleh finally agreed to step down and transfer power to his vice president after nearly a year of mass protests against his rule.

It's been two weeks since the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a resolution condemning the Syrian regime for its crackdown on protesters and calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Since then, the Assad regime has intensified a brutal offensive on cities and neighborhoods that have most fiercely resisted the regime.

Now that the uprising in Syria has turned into a heavily armed conflict, many in the region are worried that the violence will spread beyond its territory.

Syria borders Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Israel, as well as Lebanon, where clashes erupted last Friday in the northern coastal city of Tripoli.

Sunni Muslims in one Tripoli neighborhood began protesting against Syrian President Bashar Assad. They put up a huge banner on the side of a mosque that had a picture of Assad, wearing a military uniform, with a big red X across his face.

Syrian troops have fired rockets and mortars at neighborhoods in the city of Homs that have most fiercely resisted the government throughout the uprising.

Mainstream journalists are barred from entering Homs, so a team of activists decided to record the offensive themselves. The activists positioned their cameras atop buildings in the city. Each morning the view is blue sky, a minaret, a sea of rooftops. Then come the booms.

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NPR's Kelly McEvers has been following events in Syria from neighboring Lebanon, and she joins me now from Beirut. Kelly, as we just heard, the UN Security Council has failed to agree on a resolution condemning Bashar Assad. Any reaction from Syria?

In Syria, the death toll is rising after what activists and opposition leaders are calling a massive offensive by pro-government troops in the city of Homs. Activists say at least 250 have been killed in what may be the single most violent day since Syria's anti-government uprising began in March.

Thirty years ago, one of the bloodiest episodes in modern Middle East history unfolded as an anti-government uprising began in the Syrian city of Hama, and was met almost immediately with overwhelming government force.

Over the course of February 1982, an estimated 10,000 to 40,000 people died in the city that was not only cut off from the rest of Syria, but the outside world as well. When it ended, Syrian President Hafez Assad said, "What's happened in Hama has happened. And now it's all over."

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