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Syrian Army Faces Its Own Among Protesters


Deb, welcome.

DEBORAH AMOS: Good morning.

CORNISH: How widespread are the clashes at this point between the armed factions?

AMOS: Now, there are groups of defectors in the nearby town of Homs. There are some in the north, near the Turkish border, and some on the outskirts of Damascus. But this is by no means a fighting force.

CORNISH: Well, then how much firepower do they really have?

AMOS: If they want to get resupplied - bullets, for example - they have to get those from people who are sympathetic to them inside the army. There's no supply line for these people, and no safe place for them to go.

CORNISH: Deb, Syrians who support President Assad say that if he falls, the country will spiral downward into sectarian war. Do we have any sense of which sectarian communities these army defectors may be coming from?

AMOS: One defector I talked to said that 50 percent of the army now supports the protesters, but it's just too difficult to defect. So I think reports about this new armed front opening up in Syria, it's really less than meets the eye.

CORNISH: Deb, lastly, I want to move on to the peaceful protests. We've seen some videos popping up in recent days about them. Who's leading that movement?

AMOS: The Syrian opposition on the ground and an older generation in exile now seem to be uniting under one umbrella, and it's been after months of delay. For the first time, they have announced a unified leadership - that's today from Istanbul, Turkey. And for the first time, there's the beginning of a coherent opposition. They're going to now try to offer an alternative to the regime in Damascus.

CORNISH: NPR's Deborah Amos in Beirut. Deborah, thank you.

AMOS: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.