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Syrian Opposition Faces Expanding, Volatile Conflict


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. There are new signs today that the Syrian crisis is spilling beyond Syria's borders. This morning, two rockets slammed into Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, injuring several people. That came just hours after Hezbollah's leader vowed support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Istanbul, where he is following a meeting of Syrian opposition figures. Peter, it seems that the Syrian opposition remains plagued by outside pressures, a lot of internal disputes, while the violence in and around Syria just keep getting worse. I mean, we hear that fierce fighting continues in the area of Qusair in Homs province today. What do we know about this rocket attack?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, this rocket attack could be a significant development. The south Beirut neighborhood over in Lebanon where they exploded has long been known as Hezbollah territory. Some people are seeing this as a response to last night's speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who announced a new phase of what he calls the resistance, which has always been against Israel in the past. Now, he's promising an all-out fight to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is a long-time Hezbollah patron.

The source of the rockets appears to be in a hilly area southeast of Beirut. There's been no claim of responsibility so far. For the residents of Lebanon, where memories of their own bloody 15-year civil war are never far from the surface, this is bound to be a worrying sign. In North Lebanon, sectarian fighting's going on in Tripoli. The border area is very tense. The tide of violence is rising, it's spreading, and no one seems sure how to proceed.

MARTIN: You're following an important meeting in Istanbul. It's a meeting that's supposed to answer the question of whether the Syrian opposition will take part in talks with the government, talks that Washington and Moscow are trying to arrange next month. How does that look?

KENYON: I would say the opposition skepticism remains very deeply entrenched but the pressure to attend is increasing. Coalition members that I've spoken with say the government can't be trusted. They've shown no sign of changing and the demand is still that Assad must agree to leave power before talks can really start on a transition government. Now that's a non-starter for the regime, of course, so the diplomats are going to have to get pretty creative.

If you look at it from the opposition viewpoint, frankly, all they see is downside risk. What is the point, they ask, of sitting with Assad and making concessions while rebel fighters and civilians are being slaughtered in Qusair or in Homs? Now, this to them is a recipe for losing what little credibility they may have left on the ground. Now, on the other hand, the international backers seem to want this very badly. They pay the bills. It may be possible yet to get these talks off the ground.

MARTIN: And meanwhile, the opposition coalition is looking to remake itself again. It needs a new president, they want to expand their membership to be more inclusive. Are they finding any success there?

KENYON: It's a longstanding problem and the roadblocks seem to still be in place. The coalition is under big pressure to add members, especially secular more liberal members who are not aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. The coalition does appear to be making some progress. They may be adding more non-Islamist members soon. But those efforts just aren't resonating inside Syria, where besieged civilians are desperate for humanitarian aid and weapons for rebel brigades battling the Syrian army, and increasing Hezbollah fighters as well.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul, following all of the different aspects of the crisis in Syria. Peter, thank you so much.

KENYON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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