STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now as Michele noted, the chemical weapons inspectors have done their work even as Syria's civil war continues. And Human Rights Watch has been examining atrocities in Syria blamed on the rebels, killing civilians, including women and children. New York Times reporter Anne Barnard has just been visiting Syria. How awkward is it for the U.S. to have rebel groups portrayed in this way, committing atrocities?
ANNE BARNARD: Well, it's very awkward. The Syrian government has been working hard to emphasize atrocities on the other side to suggest that the alternative to its rule is chaos and extremism. The group that the West is trying to support, the Supreme Military Council commanded by Salim Idris, has struggled to prove that it actually controls events on the ground.
Now, the report doesn't find or doesn't conclude that his forces were directly involved in the atrocities but it does not that if he continues to coordinate with any such groups, he could be complicit in war crimes.
INSKEEP: And we should mention Salim Idris is the most prominent rebel figure here. He's the most prominent contact for the rebels for the United States.
BARNARD: That's right.
INSKEEP: Anne Barnard, we've been following as you've traveled across Syria your Twitter feed. You've been sending us lots of photographs, and even though you're covering a truly brutal civil war, the most remarkable thing about many of these photographs is how ordinary life seems. You see people in cafes looking at their phones. You see sunlight falling on the mountainsides and on cities. Things seem strangely normal.
BARNARD: Well, part of what I wanted to show is the way Syria is divided into two worlds. In one place you can see a block that's entirely destroyed by fighting and a few blocks away, you'll see commerce and bustle going on almost as if normal. This is one of the key features of the conflict that's really a patchwork between peace and war, between government control and rebel control. And it's another way in which the country is divided. People living in central Damascus, whether they support or oppose the government, are not experiencing the worst of this conflict.
INSKEEP: Not experiencing the worst of the conflict, but has it changed very much in recent weeks as there was this threat of U.S. strikes and then a Syrian agreement to remove chemical weapons?
BARNARD: Well, it seems the sense of fear and tension in Damascus may have peaked at that point. Some people who had held on until then actually left at that time and many of them have come back. I was in Damascus in April and at that time there was a feeling there that the rebels could actually enter the city at some point and whether people support it or oppose the rebels, they didn't want that to happen because they didn't want to see Damascus go the way of Aleppo, which is another beautiful ancient city that's been very damaged by fighting.
I didn't really have the sense that people expect that to happen, rather their concern is that there's no end in sight to this war and that society's being eaten away from inside, even in places like Damascus where there's no outward sense of war, or much less outward sense of war. Instead, you're facing a collapsing economy, the city is being flooded by Syrians displaced from all over the country who have come to Damascus 'cause it's relatively safe.
And you do have mortars occasionally landing in the city. You have checkpoints blocking the streets and making people aware of the clampdown that's going on in security.
INSKEEP: So on the government side of the battle lines, and we should emphasize that's the side that you were on, there's not fear of defeat, but very little hope of victory, fear of a stalemate, really.
BARNARD: Yes, and I should note that I wouldn't frame it in terms of victory and defeat because although Damascus is government controlled, it doesn't mean that everybody there supports the government.
INSKEEP: Meaning that people are just worried about the future of their country generally.
BARNARD: That's right. And there's a growing center of people who don't believe that either the status quo or the extreme factions on the rebel side are good for the future.
INSKEEP: Anne Barnard is the New York Times Beirut bureau chief and she has just finished a reporting trip in Syria. Thanks very much.
BARNARD: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.