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Rebellious Syrian City Of Homs Pelted By Rocket Fire


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Activists and human rights groups in Syria contend the government has now killed hundreds of civilians this week alone. It's hard to verify that number, but it is clear that mortars, rockets and tanks continue firing into the city of Homs. That gunfire has served as a week-long punctuation mark on the United Nation's failure to approve a resolution against Syria. NPR's Kelly McEvers is following the situation from Beirut. She joins us once again.

Hi, Kelly.


INSKEEP: And what are you hearing out of the city of Homs?

MCEVERS: Well, the activists and witnesses and citizen journalists who we talk to on a regular basis say the situation could not be more dire, Steve, right now. Yesterday, we talked to some people who said, look, we're pretty much ready to die - mostly young men - but, you know, just begging, calling on the international community to do whatever it could to get the women and children out. That's how bad it is.

Field hospitals are flooded with wounded. They're running out of medical supplies. There's just no sense of optimism or hope at all inside some of these neighborhoods of Homs.

INSKEEP: Now I recognize that you're not able to witness this. You're trying to figure it out from a distance. But as best you can determine, what kind of action is this? Are Syrian troops actually moving in, attacking the city, or simply shelling it from a distance?

MCEVERS: At this time, they are still shelling it from a distance. But what we're hearing from these activists and from some of the rebel fighters who work with the activists is that the troops have surrounded the city of Homs, and that they're seeing more tanks moving in. So they are anticipating some sort of ground offensive.

INSKEEP: What do they want from the international community at this point?

MCEVERS: The activists want help. They say we want help. We need medical supplies. We need anything we can get. There are some armed rebels working with the activists, working with the anti-government groups. But these rebels have, you know, at best, Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and I heard from a colleague who was with them yesterday, a couple of rusty mortar tubes. I mean, this is all they've got. They basically cannot fight back against this government offensive.

So there are some people calling for other countries to arm the rebels. But I think people are very skeptical about that option, as well. Who are these rebels? Who's leading them? And sending more arms into Syria, wouldn't that make the situation worse? I think that a lot of people are asking that question.

INSKEEP: Unusual, though, that the Syrian troops actually haven't moved in. You wonder if the Syrians themselves are confident of their strength - I mean the government.

MCEVERS: Right. I mean, there's a sense that they're softening Homs up, in a way, that if they continue to pummel it from afar with indirect fire, that perhaps the activists and some of the rebels will just throw their hands up in surrender. Unfortunately, it's probably only doing the opposite. It's only strengthening the resolve of the activists and causing them to call to fight back.

INSKEEP: And how are you learning what is happening in and around Homs, given that journalists, for the most part, have been barred from the area?

MCEVERS: This is really sort of the amazing component of this particular offensive. Perhaps for the first time ever, in a place where journalists are not allowed at all, it's the citizen journalists who are getting the news out.

At any given time, we are seeing up to three live streams coming out of Homs. So, I mean, you could literally be chopping your vegetables and your laptop is on the counter, and you're hearing live sounds of mortars and rockets raining down on houses.

In fact, yesterday, at one point one, of the teams that was live streaming from Homs was itself attacked. So you heard that happening. You could hear the sound of the explosion hitting the team that was attacked. Four people were wounded. Nobody died.

INSKEEP: Do you have sense about whether that kind of dramatic citizen journalism is changing international opinion about whether to intervene in Syria?

MCEVERS: I definitely think it's changing the international reaction. I don't know where the international community is moving on intervention right now. So far, you know, all you're hearing from the international community is we should call more conferences and have a Friends of Syria group and, you know, maybe talk about some humanitarian aid.

But, you know, the shrill sort of messages from these citizen journalists sort of showing us these destroyed houses, these killed women and children, are definitely sort of ramping up the drumbeat, at least, and not letting the international community just sort of stand by - idly by.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kelly McEvers. She's monitoring the situation in Syria.

Kelly, thanks very much.

MCEVERS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: And we're also following reports out of a different part of Syria. We just heard about Homs. Let's talk now about the northern city of Aleppo. Syrian state television says that two explosions have struck compounds there held by security forces. We do not have independent confirmation and will bring you more as we learn it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.