Kelly McEvers

After many years in the Middle East, Kelly McEvers is back home and working as a national correspondent based at NPR West. She previously ran NPR's Beirut bureau, where she earned a George Foster Peabody award, an Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia award, a Gracie award, and an Overseas Press Club mention for her 2012 coverage of the Syrian conflict. She recently made a radio documentary about being a war correspondent with renowned radio producer Jay Allison of Transom.org.

In 2011, she traveled undercover to follow Arab uprisings in places where brutal crackdowns followed the early euphoria of protests. She has been tear-gassed in Bahrain; she has spent a night in a tent city with a Yemeni woman who would later share the Nobel Peace Prize; and she spent weeks inside Syria with anti-government rebels known as the Free Syrian Army.

In Iraq, she covered the final withdrawal of U.S. troops and the political chaos that gripped the country afterward. Before arriving in Iraq in 2010, McEvers was one of the first Western correspondents to be based, full-time, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In 2008 and 2009, McEvers was part of a team that produced the award-winning "Working" series for American Public Media's business and finance show, Marketplace. She profiled a war fixer in Beirut, a smuggler in Dubai, a sex-worker in Baku, a pirate in the Strait of Malacca and a marriage broker in Vietnam.

She previously covered the former Soviet Union and Southeast Asia as a freelancer for NPR and other outlets. She started her journalism career in 1997 at the Chicago Tribune, where she worked as a metro reporter and documented the lives of female gang members for the Sunday magazine.

Her writing also has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Monthly, Slate and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her work has aired on This American Life, The World, and the BBC. She's taught radio and journalism in the U.S. and abroad.

She lives with her family in California, where she's still very bad at surfing.

Pope Benedict XVI said Mass in Lebanon Sunday during his first visit to the Middle East, which is seeing dwindling Christian numbers and where Christians fear Islamists will gain power now that secular dictators have fallen.

Lebanon has the region's second-largest Christian population, after Egypt. The pope spent his three-day visit promoting peace and religious tolerance.

The conflict in Syria is sending a staggering number of refugees into neighboring countries. Turkey, Jordan and even Iraq are building tent cities.

But Lebanon has yet to build such camps. The country is already home to more than a dozen teeming, squalid camps for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled the war after Israel's creation in 1948, as well as their descendants.

The conflict in Syria is now nearly a year and a half old, and there appears to be no end in sight.

August was the deadliest month yet, with thousands of people, mostly civilians, killed in fighting around the country. While anti-government rebels are making advances, government troops are digging in their heels.

It started as a protest movement. Now, analysts in the U.S. and the region agree, the conflict in Syria is a civil war.

A Civil War

Even Syrian President Bashar Assad came close to acknowledging as much in a speech last week.

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The most striking thing you see when you drive into the Syrian town of Derat Azza is that it's devoid of ordinary people. Shops are closed, shuttered.

The only people you see seem to be rebels.

It seems like the only difference between this town and others in the area is that the regime made up its mind to target it. And once the regime did, there was nothing the people could do.

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At least 100 people were killed earlier this month in a Syrian village called Tremseh. Activists called the deaths a massacre of innocent civilians by government forces, but later reports suggested it was something different. After spending a week with rebel fighters in the country, I discovered some previously untold details about the killings.

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Tucked in the olive groves and rocky hills of northern Syria, the small village of Qurqanya doesn't seem like much.

Scratch the surface, though, and you realize that this is a hub for the revolution in northern Syria, where a kind of shadow state is forming.

As the Syrian state recedes, the people in this village and villages around it are filling in the blanks with their own institutions and, for better or for worse, their own ideas about how a country should be run.

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I'm standing next to a ridge, looking at the Syrian town of Salaqin. Just up on the ridge you can see the silhouettes of a mosque and couple of water towers. It looks like a very small, inconsequential town, but because it's on the Syrian-Turkish border it's very important to the rebels.

What the Syrian rebels are trying to do right now is carve out a kind of safe zone, a buffer zone where they can gather, assemble and plan attacks against the Syrian regime's army, and also a place where they can move weapons and money into Syria.

First of five parts

It's sunset in the village of Atima. The old police station clearly was part of the government at one point. The police basically left and now the police station itself is a headquarters for the rebels.

The flag on top of the police station is no longer the Syrian flag, but the flag of the revolution. It's a bit in tatters, but it's still there.

The destruction is total. In Jaar, a town in southern Yemen, an entire block has been reduced to rubble by what residents say was a powerful airstrike on May 15.

For the first time in more than a year, the sites of the escalating U.S. air war in southern Yemen are becoming accessible, as militants linked to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have withdrawn from the area. This retreat follows the sustained American air campaign and an offensive by the Yemeni government forces on the ground.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Yemen's capital, Sana'a, a sprawling tent city is beginning to be dismantled. It was home to thousands of protesters for more than a year. Known as Change Square, it came to look more like Change Mile as street after street became packed with demonstrators and their makeshift homes. Kelly McEvers reported from Yemen during last year's uprising and she went back and sent this report about the changes at Change Square.

Yemen has long struggled as one of the least developed countries in the world. But now, after a year of protest and unrest that saw the country's longtime dictator step down, the situation for millions of Yemenis is dire.

Aid groups say some 10 million people are now without enough food to eat, and more than 200,000 children face life-threatening levels of malnutrition.

Yemen's offensive against al-Qaida has focused on territory in the south of the country that the militants have held for nearly a year. With the backing of the U.S., Yemen's army has cleared al-Qaida and its allies. But many local residents believe the fight is far from over. Kelly McEvers spent several days in southern Yemen and filed this report.

We're in a Yemeni army land cruiser with a shattered windshield. Our destination is the town of Shaqra, the last town in the al-Qaida badlands before the sandy ground turns into mountains.

In southern Yemen, government forces backed by U.S. advisers claim they are routing al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and allied groups from territory that the militants had controlled over the past year.

This is the same al-Qaida that has tried to send so-called underwear bombers to attack U.S.-bound planes.

Abandoned Streets

Just outside the town of Zinjibar, it's clear that fierce battles went on here. It's deserted. There are no people, but there are an enormous number of bullet and shrapnel holes in the buildings.

A rash of kidnappings in Lebanon over the weekend, coupled with deadly cross-border attacks by the Syrian army, are all worrying signs that Syria's troubles are continuing to spill over into its smaller and weaker neighbor.

In the most recent incidents, a Sunni sheik known to support the Syrian uprising was abducted. In retaliation, several Alawites aligned with the Syrian government were taken. Days before that, the Syrian army shot several people on Lebanese territory.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The massacre in the place known as Houla has kept worldwide attention on the relentless violence in Syria. Western countries and the United Nations blame Syrian government troops and pro-government thugs for killing more than a hundred people, nearly half of them children. NPR's Kelly McEvers made a closer examination of those events and found that's only part of the picture.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned Syria for an attack in the central part of the country yesterday that left at least 90 people dead, dozens of them children. The council once again called on Syria's government to halt further violence against its civilians. Here's NPR's Kelly McEvers with more from Beirut.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Ever since Syria descended into a brutal armed conflict, there have been fears that the sectarian bloodletting would spill over its borders. That may have come to pass. This past week, clashes in neighboring Lebanon have left more than a dozen people dead. NPR's Kelly McEvers has the story from Beirut.

There was a deadly clash in northern Syria on Tuesday, but it was different than many other such episodes over the past 14 months of the Syrian uprising.

This time, United Nations monitors were watching. The monitors are in Syria to keep an eye on the government forces and the opposition, who are supposed to be observing a cease-fire and opening a dialogue.

But the trouble Tuesday began with a funeral the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.

The international peace plan for Syria is nearly a month old, and signs are pointing to a conflict that is becoming even more entrenched.

In the latest blow, two massive explosions rocked the outskirts of Syria's capital, Damascus, on Thursday, killing at least 55 people and injuring hundreds more.

It was Friday, April 27, when a car bomb exploded in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan. Syrian state television showed soldiers and civilians running from the smoke of the explosion under a bridge. Then the camera closed in on streams of blood and body parts.

The Syrian regime's narrative is that the uprising that has gripped the country for more than a year is not a case of people protesting and sometimes fighting for their rights; the official stance is that it's terrorism.

They called him "the spray man" for his graffiti that appeared all over the Syrian capital of Damascus. But in truth, 23-year-old Nour Hatem Zahra was an activist like any other activist.

He started protesting in Syria last spring. Back then, the opposition thought it would only take a few months to get rid of President Bashar Assad, as it had in Tunisia and Egypt.

Then Syrian forces started killing protesters, detaining them, torturing them. And the people started fighting back.

The U.N.-brokered cease-fire in Syria keeps unraveling. Syrian government troops were supposed to pull their tanks and soldiers out of cities and towns, while rebels were supposed to lay down their arms.

Yet hundreds of people have died in recent days, according to activists. And in some areas, visits by U.N. observers have been followed by intense violence.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. The U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution that would call for hundreds of monitors to enter Syria should the Syrian government not keep to the terms of a cease-fire. The government was supposed to pull its troops and heavy arms out of cities and towns, but as NPR's Kelly McEvers reports, dozens of people were killed during protests yesterday.

Since the uprising began in Syria last year, there have been a lot of stories about soldiers who have defected from the army to join the rebels. This rebel group is loosely known as the Free Syrian Army, and it's starting to look more and more like an insurgency.

Not all soldiers who leave the army, however, decide to join these rebels. Those who simply escape the army altogether offer a rare glimpse into a military they say is committing unspeakable atrocities and a rebel force that's fighting back with its own brutality.

When protesters took to the streets of Syria last year, one of those who joined in was Abu Azad — a pseudonym he uses to protect his safety.

A member of the Kurdish ethnic group, Abu Azad helped organize protests in Kurdish areas, calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down. But Abu Azad recently found out he was wanted by Syrian authorities.

"They were chasing me and they want to kill me," he says.

We can't tell you where Hussam and Rania live, but we can tell you they used to live in Syria's capital, Damascus.

Hussam was a creative director at a small marketing company he founded with a friend. Rania was the morning host for a radio station owned by the cousin of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Then came the protests all around Syria. Then came the phone call.

"The radio station called me, at home, and they said, 'Rania we have to say the truth,' " Rania says.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. Here's another milestone for Iraq. For the first time in more than two decades, the Arab League is meeting in Baghdad. Little in the way of major policy is expected to come out of tomorrow's summit, but as NPR's Kelly McEvers reports, after years of violence and war, it's a marvel the gathering is happening at all.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The situation in Syria has deteriorated further this week. Government troops once again opened fire on thousands of protesters, armed rebels continued their own resistance, which looks more and more like an insurgency. All this despite a push by the United Nations fro a cease-fire. NPR's Kelly McEvers reports.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: It's hard to know where to start when it comes to Syria. First, let's go the protests that continued despite the fact that violence is on the rise.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTING)

A Death In Syria

Mar 16, 2012

The United Nations estimates some 8,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began one year ago. One of them was Abdulrahman Abu Lebdeh, 24, who was killed in the town of Tal Kalakh last fall. His parents, his brother and one of his friends, who was also an activist, told the story of his life and death to NPR's Kelly McEvers and Lava Selo.

Last February, a group of young people were arrested for spray-painting graffiti on the walls of their school in the southern Syrian city of Daraa. They were beaten and interrogated. A year ago this Sunday, people went out to protest those arrests. And so began the Syrian uprising — an uprising that in some parts of Syria has turned into an armed insurgency and seen government troops respond with untold brutality. In all, thousands of people have died, with no clear end in sight.

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