LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Syria's president goes on American TV tonight defending his regime in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters. Away from the cameras, his government continues a brutal response to protestors. As the government faces more pressure, it has in turn increased the pressure on the restive city of Homs. This week, the city has seen devastating sectarian violence, with dozens of dead bodies left in the streets. NPR's Deborah Amos has been monitoring that story from Beirut.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Families and homes are preparing the dead for burial today after a horrific incident of sectarian murder. Thirty-four bodies were dumped on a town square on Tuesday after they had been kidnapped. Some showed signs of torture or mutilation. The dead have been identified as Sunni Muslims. In Homs, Sunnis support the uprising. The minority Alawites support President Bashar al-Assad, who is also an Alawite. These deaths have inflamed Homs at a time of rising kidnappings and killings across the sectarian divide.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
AMOS: Families posted videos of the dead, this one was of a 16-year-old boy. His battered body is washed before burial. An unidentified boy claims he was killed by what he called Assad's gangs, and he cursed Alawites, blaming them for the murder as the sectarian divide grows deeper. Homs has been a flashpoint over the nine months of the uprising, more recently a haven for army defectors and armed civilians as the revolt changes tactics, at least in this town, from peaceful protest to armed rebellion. More people have been killed in Homs than another city in Syria. Activists charged the Assad government is trying to stir sectarian tensions as a strategy for survival.
The government insists that armed gangs are responsible for the violence and have sent reinforcements to crush the rebellion. Shelling and shooting continued through last night, according to residents reached by phone this morning. The Syrian government is under increasing pressure and isolation. The Arab League has imposed unprecedented economic sanctions and a travel ban on top officials. Two major European oil companies suspended operations this week, and the U.S. secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, met with Syrian opposition leaders in Geneva on Tuesday. U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford returned to Damascus last night after departing over security issues in October. A State Department announcement stated he returned to, quote, "stand with the people of Syria." Deborah Amos, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.