Deborah Amos

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.

Amos travels extensively across the Middle East covering a range of stories including the rise of well-educated Syria youth who are unqualified for jobs in a market-drive economy, a series focusing on the emerging power of Turkey and the plight of Iraqi refugees.

In 2009, Amos won the Edward Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting from Georgetown University and in 2010 was awarded the Edward R. Murrow Life Time Achievement Award by Washington State University. Amos was part of a team of reporters who won a 2004 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for coverage of Iraq. A Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1991-1992, Amos was returned to Harvard in 2010 as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School.

In 2003, Amos returned to NPR after a decade in television news, including ABC's Nightline and World News Tonight and the PBS programs NOW with Bill Moyers and Frontline.

When Amos first came to NPR in 1977, she worked first as a director and then a producer for Weekend All Things Considered until 1979. For the next six years, she worked on radio documentaries, which won her several significant honors. In 1982, Amos received the Prix Italia, the Ohio State Award, and a DuPont-Columbia Award for "Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown" and in 1984 she received a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for "Refugees."

From 1985 until 1993, Amos spend most of her time at NPR reporting overseas, including as the London Bureau Chief and as an NPR foreign correspondent based in Amman, Jordan. During that time, Amos won several awards, including an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a Break thru Award, and widespread recognition for her coverage of the Gulf War in 1991.

A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Amos is also the author of Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East (Public Affairs, 2010) and Lines in the Sand: Desert Storm and the Remaking of the Arab World (Simon and Schuster, 1992).

Amos began her career after receiving a degree in broadcasting from the University of Florida at Gainesville.

When Syrian rebels seized the border post at Ras al-Ayn on Nov. 8, they celebrated the victory and went on to "liberate" the town, a place where both Arabs and Kurds live on Syria's northeast border with Turkey.

But the Kurdish inhabitants quickly saw their "liberation" as a disaster. Within days, dozens were dead in clashes between Kurdish militias and the rebels.

After 20 months of violence in Syria, acts of reconciliation are scarce.

When one took place earlier this month in the town of Tel Kalakh, near the border with Lebanon, it touched off a fierce debate.

The man at the center is Ahmad Munir Muhammed, the governor of Homs, who has long been known as a loyalist of embattled President Bashar Assad.

However, Muhammed made an official visit to Tel Kalakh, where the majority of neighborhoods are controlled by the rebels.

Facebook is the bulletin board for the Syrian revolt.

When a newly formed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, got some 18,000 "likes" within 48 hours, it was a sign that support is building for a group formed Sunday after a week of negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

Could a united Syrian opposition be the game changer that finally topples President Bashar Assad, after almost 20 months of revolt and more than 30,000 dead?

"You need a game changer, either military or political, and hope it will break the stalemate," says Amr Azm, a Syrian-born professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio.

The Obama administration appears to embrace this view, and last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the surprise announcement that the U.S. backed a plan to overhaul the Syrian opposition.

In a new YouTube video, a Syrian colonel defects from the army, denounces President Bashar Assad and publicly joins the rebels of the Free Syrian Army.

As Syrian war planes bomb towns and villages held by anti-government rebels, a group of Syrian-American doctors is quietly providing medical aid inside Syria.

The Syrian American Medical Society, or SAMS, has a long track record of supporting health care in Syria.

But as Syria's 18-month revolt has grown more lethal, these Syrian-American doctors have sided with the revolution and undertaken risky work delivering medicines and volunteering in field hospitals.

Homegrown rebels have done most of the fighting against the Syrian government troops. But Islamist militants from abroad, including some with links to al-Qaida, are now joining the fight against the government in growing numbers.

The local rebels are not pleased with this development, and there is growing tension between the groups that share a desire to oust President Bashar Assad but little else.

Until a few weeks ago, the border crossing at Bab al-Hawa on Syria's northern frontier with Turkey was the site of a training camp for a militant Islamist group.

On a recent day in the northern Syrian town of Azaz, there's an edgy energy when a pickup truck armed with a heavy machine gun screeches to a halt.

Wild-eyed and high-flving, the young rebels in the truck are happy to be alive after they hit a government helicopter landing at an air base 8 miles outside Azaz.

This rebel-held town is under nightly attack. This lightly armed rebel crew races out to the air base every day to target regime aircraft from hidden sites in the olive groves.

Driving into Kfar Ghan, you notice the difference right away: The shops are open, there are kids on the street, there's even a row of open-air vegetable stalls and a crowd of shoppers.

There is a full spread of watermelon, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes. All the farmers from the area have brought their produce to the market in this Syrian village, about a mile from the Turkish border.

The Bab al-Salam border crossing, on Syria's northern border with Turkey, has settled into an orderly routine.

Back in July, rebel brigades wrested this border post in Syria's strategic Aleppo province from President Bashar Assad's army in a fierce battle. Now, passports are stamped and cars inspected by the rebels — polite, young, bearded men who wear mismatched military uniforms or civilian clothes.

While the military confrontation was a joint operation, bringing together many rebel brigades, the Northern Storm brigade retains exclusive control of the border post.

Syrian air force jets bombed the rebel-held town of Al-Bab in northern Syria on Monday, killing at least 18 people, according to Syrian activists.

Over the summer, the rebels gained control of a number of towns and villages along the Syrian-Turkish border. Now, those places are being bombarded from the air and from the ground by government forces.

Azaz, in northern Syria's Aleppo province, is one of these places. There, the tombstones in the old section of the town's cemetery are laid out in neat rows.

Syria's president has vowed to crush the rebels by any means; his air force has not spared the towns and villages that support rebel brigades. In August, the death toll often topped 250 a day, according to Syrian activists. The fighting between troops loyal to President Bashar Assad and rebel forces has also sparked a refugee crisis for Syria's neighbors as thousands flee to the borders.

After a month-long offensive in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, rebels are struggling under a fierce counter offensive by the Syrian military and the outcome is far from clear. But the future of Aleppo, the country's financial hub, is already under discussion in secret meetings on the Turkish border.

Over cups of sweat tea in a Turkish border hotel, Moeihmen Abdul Rahman, a lawyer from Aleppo, sits down for his first meeting with Abu Riad, a commander from the Al Tawheed brigade, a coalition of rebel militias leading the assault on Aleppo.

The bitter fighting in Syria seems to grow worse by the day, yet the rebels and the government do occasionally manage to work out something that requires each side to trust the other: prisoner swaps.

In one recent exchange, two women held by the government were freed in exchange for seven men who were fighting on behalf President Bashar Assad's regime.

Getting into Syria has been a journalistic obsession since anti-regime protests began there in March 2011. The choices have been risky or next to impossible. The Syrian regime has given out few journalists' visas (full disclosure, I got a legal visa to Syria in June).

The battle for Syria appears to have reached a decisive stage. Tanks are on the streets of Damascus as civilians flee the city, and rebels have seized outposts on the borders with Turkey and Iraq.

The opposition has shown a surprising military capability over the past few days. As fighting intensifies in the Syrian capital, there's an urgent push under way to organize the rebel force.

The violence in Syria is increasingly being called a civil war, and it can also be called a sectarian war, because much of the fighting pits the majority Sunni Muslims against the minority Alawites who make up much of the country's leadership.

Yet not everyone fits neatly into a category. There are some Alawites who have joined the uprising.

One 30-year-old Alawite man, who doesn't want his name revealed, is nervous as he lights another cigarette and tells the story of how he came to side with the opposition and turned his back on the Alawite rulers.

The Turkish border is a key link for the revolt in neighboring Syria. Turkish ambulances are stationed at border crossings to cope with the flood of injured Syrians, often as many as 30 a day. And now, Syrian-American doctors are volunteering in a humanitarian effort to help the wounded and to bring crucial medicines for field hospitals inside Syria.

At this isolated part of the Turkish border, there's just one Turkish guard, a fence and, beyond an olive grove, Syria.

The Syrian side is just a short walk, perhaps 10 minutes. The area looks completely calm and there is no sign of the Syrian military.

Abu Amar, a rebel who has fought in Syria for five weeks, walked across this field from the Syrian village of Atma, which is now serving as a rebel headquarters. He says much of the northwestern province of Idlib is now controlled by the rebels, and it has become easy to move back and forth between Syria and Turkey here.

The Nachar family has long been on the radar of the Syrian government, and since last year, they have become even more visible.

When Syrians first started openly protesting inside the country in the spring of 2011, 29-year-old Syrian Karam Nachar was working on his doctorate in Middle East history at Princeton University. He joined demonstrations outside U.N. headquarters in New York.

In Syria's capital, Damascus, the Hamidiyah souk is a landmark — a centuries-old covered market linked to a maze of alleyways in the heart of the capital. Over the 15-month uprising, Syria's merchants have supported the regime of President Bashar Assad. But that support is crumbling.

Shops selling everything from cold drinks, ice cream and spices to wedding dresses and electric guitars line Hamidiyah's cobblestone streets.

The uprising in Syria began in the spring of 2011 when rebellious teenagers scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall in the southern city of Daraa.

The protest against their arrest, and the regime's brutal response, sparked the wider revolt. Throughout the unrest, the country's younger generation has been at the forefront of efforts to end the repressive regime of President Bashar Assad.

At a cafe in the heart of Damascus recently, a young man flips open his cellphone to show pictures of people killed in the uprising.

"Actually, they are my friends," he says.

In Damascus, Syrians now openly speak their minds, but often won't offer a name for the record.

The "wall of fear" is crumbling even in the capital, where the security police have the heaviest presence. Syrians have lived under surveillance and emergency law for years, but after 15 months of anti-government protest and a brutal response by the regime, the killings have changed people.

Syria has expelled an Italian Jesuit priest for his outspoken criticism of the government's crackdown on a popular uprising. The Rev. Paolo Dall'Oglio has lived in Syria for 30 years, helping to restore a 1,000-year-old monastery that became a center for Muslim and Christian understanding.

Dall'Oglio's departure from Damascus on Saturday was sudden. More than a year ago, the government ordered him out, but a campaign on Facebook — "No to the Exile of Father Paolo" — delayed his expulsion.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

After a week of escalating violence in Syria, the chief U.N. official there in the country said today that efforts to resolve the conflict have had little effect. It was a bleak assessment from the man leading the United Nations observer mission for the past six months. NPR's Deborah Amos joins us from Damascus, where she has been out with observers assessing the situation.

And Deb, what was the message today from Major General Robert Mood?

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