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Syria: Deadly Lies; Interview With Senator John McCain; Digging for Danger: Activists Remove Mines; More U.N. Observers Needed in Syria

Aired May 14, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It is 10:00 p.m. on the East Coast of the United States, 5:00 a.m. here from a refugee camp along the Turkish-Syrian border.

This is a camp, a tent camp filled with some of the 23,000 men, women, and children who fled Syria and found refuge here Turkey; 50,000 others have fled to camps in the countries as well.

We came here tonight because we want you to hear the voices of the people here in this camp, voices the regime of Bashar al-Assad has for 14 months tried to silence with batons and with bullets, with mortars and with murder.

These are men, and women and children who, 14 months ago, began raising their voices, asking simply change, for reform, an end to corruption, an end to discrimination, basic freedoms that most of us in the world take for granted.

They spoke out peacefully, demonstrating in the streets of Syria, and they were met with tear gas, and tanks and torture. There's no more talk of peace, of reform. Now they fight back and will not stop until Bashar al-Assad and his regime of lies has fallen.

Just over 300 yards from where I'm standing is the Syrian border. You can see lights in the distance. That's Syria, that's how close we are. The Syrian regime does not want us here. They refused our request for visas to enter Syria, as they have for many months now.

But we wanted to come so that you could hear the voices that they have tried so long to distance, children who have lost their parents, mothers and fathers who have seen their kids shot to death in the streets in front of them. The refugee camps here in Turkey are well- run. They're clean. They're safe. They're probably the nicest refugee camps I have ever seen, but they're miserable places, because all the people here have lost loved ones. Their lives are now in limbo.

For the past two days, we have been visiting the camps, speaking with the refugees. Our Ivan Watson snuck into Syria yesterday to an area controlled by the opposition Free Syrian Army. We will show you his report and talk to him as well.

A U.N.-backed cease-fire went into effect on April 12, one month ago. But it's a cease-fire in name only. Every day, including today, there's been more death, more violence, at least 9,000 dead in 14 months according to the U.N. The opposition says it's actually more -- closer to 11,000 people.

So, many deaths, so many arrests 14 months into this fight and the death toll risks -- it risks becoming meaningless, numbers on a ledger, numbers on a news ticker with no names and no faces, numbers that most of you don't even pay attention to anymore.

The fathers and mothers and children here tonight, though, they want you to know their names. They want you to know that they are not numbers. Some of them are too scared to show their faces, but many want you to see their faces, to know their loss, to understand their struggle.

There's been new fighting today and this weekend in Rastan, north of Homs, an area held by the opposition. Regime forces have attacked. New images from there tonight, a young girl in a yellow dress crying out in pain. A wounded young boy says he wants Assad to die.

As you watch the following videos, keep in mind the regime of Bashar al-Assad says they are observing a cease-fire. The Free Syrian Army, as they call themselves, shoot a rocket-propelled grenade, trying to defend the neighborhood from the Syrian regime's tanks and machine gun fire. They're outgunned, outmanned.

The opposition says at least 23 government soldiers were killed today in clashes in Rastan and three armored personnel carriers destroyed. Elsewhere in Homs city, a Syrian tank rolls down the street among bombed-out buildings and opens fire. And in Hama today, tanks rolled in and heavy gunfire ensued.

We can't independently confirm what these videos purport to show. They're scenes uploaded on YouTube by activists. For months, there's been concern the violence will spill into neighboring countries. This weekend, we saw some of that beginning to happen. In Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city, fighting erupted pitting pro- and anti- Assad residents against each other, Alawites vs. Sunnis.

At least seven people were killed in Lebanon. Every day though in Syria, more Syrian citizens die, more Syrian citizens flee to refugee camps, more Syrian citizens are wounded, arrested, disappear. Even in the hospitals, the injured are not safe. There's no haven anywhere.

We're getting new evidence tonight from the group Doctors Without Borders that wounded people are still being targeted in parts of Syria, as are the medical workers who are trying to give them desperately needed emergency care.

Doctors Without Borders spoke with an orthopedic surgeon in the village of Idlib who said -- and I quote -- "Being caught with patients is like being caught with a weapon." Doctors have to work in secret as quickly as they can. The wounded are treated in makeshift clinics, not in government hospitals, where the regime looks for wounded to arrest and torture.

Syrian refugees have been able to find a measure of safety here in these refugee camps across the border in Turkey. They're very grateful for that. About 1,600 men, women, and children live here at this tent camp where we're broadcasting from tonight. It's been open since last June.

And many of them have been here for a year. The largest refugee camp in Turkey houses more than 9,000. I have been to a lot of refugee camps over the years. And I say -- as I told you, these are some of the cleanest and best-run I have ever seen. But they are places of misery. And just keep that in mind tonight.

If the numbers continue to grow, so will the burden on Turkey. And the Turkish state TV says more than 120 Syrians arrived just today. UNHCR sent some help, small amounts of supplies, blankets and tents. But the Syrian refugees in these camps, they could use more support and certainly they could use more hope.

Here is a little bit of what we have seen the last two days.


COOPER (voice-over): Staring at the photo of his dead grandson, Ahmed Mohammed (ph) has no words. Grief is all he has left.

Pictures of the dead are everywhere in these Syrian refugee camps. Fathers show you their dead sons on cell phones, ask you to watch grainy videos of their children's funerals. No family, it seems, has escaped Syria unscathed.

(on camera): Who is this?


COOPER (voice-over): In a tent she now calls home, Rasha (ph) shows me pictures of two of her brothers, both shot during demonstrations nearly a year ago.

(on camera): This is Osif (ph). How old was he?


COOPER: Thirty-four.

(voice-over): After her brothers were killed, she fled with her parents and five other family members to this tent camp. Her father, Abu Mohammed (ph), tell me he has another senior who is missing. They think he's been arrested, but have no idea if he's still alive.

"We had young man that cried out and shouted for freedom," he says. "And they were killed just for that. We just want freedom. What's wrong with asking for freedom?"

COOPER: In his arms, his son's missing 7-month-old child, Ayam (ph), a boy who has never seen his own father.

"He was born after, when his father was in prison," he says. "We named him after his martyred uncle Ayam." No one here believes they can return to Syria any time soon. No one will return until Bashar al-Assad's regime has fallen. They wait here and hope the world takes notice.

Kids have begun classes, have already learned a heartbreaking lesson in the sadness of life.


COOPER: Joining me live here on the Syrian/Turkey border, CNN's Ivan Watson and Professor Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Professor, you have been to these camps before. The people here have great dignity. They're trying to hold their head up, but they really do feel abandoned by much of the world.


I had been here before, but I was not -- I didn't have a camera with me. I came with a notepad. The camera is a different instrument and a different creature. These people want the people to bear witness to their suffering. They want the world to hear them.

And the camera, in a way, they have this relationship to it. They are drawn to it, because in fact, they remain convinced that, should the people know about them, should the people of the world see what they have suffered, should they understand that they're not terrorists, they're not al Qaeda -- many of them were telling you, trying to convince you, look, we have nothing to do with al Qaeda. We're not terrorist groups.

One man told you, look, I don't -- we don't even have rifles in our town, let alone heavy weapons.

So they want the world to understand them. And they want the world to bear witness. And I think they also see the camera as a way of holding on to the memory of this lost world, the world that is very achingly close. It's very close to here, but it is not yet retrievable to them.

COOPER: And, Ivan, we have seen more fighting just in the last couple days. You went across the border. And we're going to show your report a little bit later on in this hour.

But what is the status of the battle? I mean, it seems like neither side is able to get a victory.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some kind of a stalemate.

I mean, when the Syrian army rolls in, they have got the tanks, the helicopters, the big guns. And, eventually, they plow through and in some cases destroy everything in their path. And the rebels retreat. But when the Syrian army retreats, then the people come back. It's insurgency/counterinsurgency tactics. And the Syrian government has clearly lost the support of the people in broad swathes of territory. And that's the stalemate that we have still got.

COOPER: Because there had been talk about Qatar and Saudi Arabia giving support to the opposition. The U.S. has talked about giving communications equipment to opposition fighters. Have you seen that? Have the fighters you have talked to said they're receiving that?

WATSON: We're hearing about trickles of equipment coming through, perhaps of weapons coming through.

But for the most part, the fighters say, we're not getting any help. We're having to sell our own cows and our wives' gold and our cars to try to buy bullets and guns.

And the strange thing is that the cost of those weapons and bullets has gone down considerably, by half over the course of the last month. And I'm not quite sure why. Many of them say they actually buy these weapons from the Syrian militias, the government militias, and from the soldiers themselves, which is very interesting and says something about the morale within Bashar al-Assad's forces.

COOPER: We have been talking to people throughout the day and you ask them about the morale. And they tell you morale is low.

AJAMI: Well, the morale is low.

Look, no one expected this rebellion to last so long. When the Syrians looked at what happened in Tunisia, it took two weeks. When the Syrians look what happened in Egypt, you were in Tahrir Square, 18 days later, the pharaoh was gone. When the Syrians looked at Libya, well, it was a little more drawn-out, but then the man was gone and pulled out of a drainage pipe.

Here we are. Here we are in Syria 14 months later, and these people have no hope. And the tie will have to be broken by the international community, by NATO, by outside powers because what you have here is an irresistible force clashing with an immovable object. And what these camps tell us -- this is really -- has taught me -- this trip has taught me that the bonds between the regime and the people are broken.

These horror stories, the rapes, the abuse, the plunder, the burning of homes, the burning of corpses, there's nothing that remains. And when the international community talks about, oh, you know, the Kofi Annan plan, this is all a fraud. This is all a fraud.

And I think this is what this trip has made amply clear.

COOPER: We're going to talk to Senator John McCain, who is calling for greater involvement, international involvement.

But, look, there's many people in the United States who tire of this and say, look, you're throwing weapons into a powder keg, into a dangerous situation. We don't know fully. There may be jihadist elements among the rebels. To them, you would say what?

AJAMI: Well, I will tell you, if there are jihadist elements, it's actually a great share of the blame is borne by the international community, which did not come to the rescue.

When the cavalry did not come in, when the cavalry of the good guys, when the cavalry of NATO, when the cavalry of the United Nations didn't come, well, then people have to fend for themselves. That's it.

COOPER: We're going to have a lot more with Ivan and with Professor Ajami throughout this hour.

As the violence continues in Syria, so many are asking, where is the international community? Where is the United States? We will talk to Senator John McCain in a moment. He's flat-out saying, where is President Barack Obama. I spoke to him earlier today -- as our special 360 report, "Syria: Deadly Lies," continues.


COOPER: Well, welcome back. We're live from the Turkish-Syrian border refugee camp.

As we said, this is what the so-called cease-fire looks like across Syria, violence leaving cities and towns too dangerous to live in. Civilian neighborhoods have been decimated, artillery fire, mortar fire, sniper fire. So many Syrians have fled here to Turkey, some 23,000.

And there's some 70,000 who have -- 50,000 others who have fled to other countries, Lebanon and Iraq right now along the Syrian border for this 360 special, "Syria: Deadly Lies."

And I mentioned at the top of the program this alleged cease-fire in Syria brokered by the United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan. It went into effect on April 12, more than a month ago. Well, since then, opposition groups claim more than 1,000 Syrians have been killed in just the past month.

It's impossible for us to confirm those numbers because the Syrian regime won't let us in or won't let most reporters in. And the regime claims the cease-fire has been broken by what they call armed terrorists.

That's what they have called anybody who's spoke out against the regime for the last 14 months, armed terrorists.

Here's what America's ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said when I asked her about that.


COOPER: The Syrian government maintains that the cease-fire was broken by -- quote -- "armed terrorists." And they say the campaign of violence by them has -- quote -- "hysterically escalated" since the cease-fire was supposed to go into effect this past Thursday.

You deal with Syrian representatives all the time. I have had them on this program, and they have said things which are just not true. They have lied. They have said things which are demonstrably untrue time and time again. Do they have any credibility to you? I don't know even if you can say that, whether or not you think that...

SUSAN RICE, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: No, they don't. I mean, let's be plain. You're right. They have lied to the international community, lied to their own people. And the biggest -- the biggest fabricator of the facts is Assad himself. His representatives are merely doing his bidding and under probably some not insignificant personal duress.

But, no, words, as we have said repeatedly, are meaningless. The actions are what matter, and the actions thus far have continued to disappoint.


COOPER: Well, one of the most outspoken critics of the Syrian regime, of the U.N., frankly, and its cease-fire plan and even of the Obama administration's response to the crisis has been Senator John McCain. He's visited these camps, along with Senator Joe Lieberman.

I spoke to Senator McCain earlier today.


COOPER: Senator McCain, obviously, the Kofi Annan peace plan has not led to a cease-fire. The violence has just continued this past month.

Last week, though, on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said it's too early to call it a failure. Do you agree?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it's shameful. I think it's shameful to use this as an excuse for us not acting.

You're on the ground. You have seen the camps. You have heard the stories of the killing, the rapes, the torture, the murder. That's a instrument of policy that Bashar al-Assad is using to kill his fellow citizens.

And to somehow place any hope or reason for delay for acting on the Kofi Annan plan is intellectually dishonest and shameful.

COOPER: What do you want to see the United States doing? Because we -- I have been getting that question now for the last two days from just about everybody I meet, wanting to know, what is the U.S. doing? Where is the international community? Why aren't more people paying attention?

What do you think the U.S. should do or the international community should do?

MCCAIN: First of all, lead. Where's the president of the United States? When's the last time the president of the United States talked to the American people about how terrible this situation is, and, also, by the way, the fact that from a national security standpoint, a removal of Bashar al-Assad is a huge blow to Iran?

But the important thing is, is our advocacy and believe in -- belief in human rights. What they need, first of all, is weapons to defend themselves. Non-lethal equipment, as the secretary of state and others have pledged, doesn't do very well against tanks and artillery.

Then we need to talk with our allies about a sanctuary, a place where the government can organize, where we can train and equip these forces so that we can have a fair fight. Remember, again, we can't stop reminding people that it is Russian equipment and Iranians that are killing Syrians in an unfair fight.

Shouldn't we give them a chance to defend themselves and their freedom? And, finally, I believe that more moral leadership on the part of the United States is clearly called for.

COOPER: Ambassador Rice, in the wake of the suicide attacks or the two bombings in Damascus last week, said it's signs that it's already a very militarized environment and that pouring more weapons in is not the solution.

MCCAIN: Well, the weapons are pouring in from the Russians and the Iranians against these people who started out, as you know, peacefully demonstrating nearly a year ago.

And you have seen the signs of it. I have warned about it. The longer this fight drags out, the more likely it is that foreign elements, including al Qaeda, could enter the fight.

I still don't believe that they could hijack the revolution, because these people are in direct contradiction to al Qaeda, at least in their beginnings and their actions. So, for us -- by the way, aren't we running out of adjectives from Ambassador Rice and from the secretary of state and others, appalling, angry, unacceptable, ta-da, ta-da, ta-da?

Aren't we running out of adjectives and adverbs? Isn't it time that we acted and stood up on behalf of these people? So it's -- you know what, I used to get angry. Now I just get sad.

COOPER: For 14 months now since this uprising began, as you well know, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has said these are armed terrorist groups, that this is al Qaeda, this is the Muslim Brotherhood, this is any number of jihadist elements.

That has been their line repeatedly. But now, in recent weeks, some intelligence officials are saying it does seem like there's evidence of foreign fighters or militant groups, the twin bombings just last week in Damascus. How concerned are you that there may already be al Qaeda elements in this opposition?

MCCAIN: I think there already are elements there. And I think there are elements of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And, by the way, we have found that there are different shades of the Muslim Brotherhood, some of them obviously antithetical to everything we stand for and believe in, others that we can do business with. But you have got to expect these extremist elements to come in if there is not a success.

But I still am convinced -- I am firmly convinced that this revolution is firmly based in what all human yearnings are all about. They are the exact opposite of al Qaeda. They started out peacefully demonstrating, until they were slaughtered in the streets. al Qaeda believes in acts of terror to bring about changes of regime.

I am confident that, if these people are given a chance, that you will see them go, with a lot of difficulties, but you will see them go in the right direction. And I don't fear al Qaeda takeover or extremist takeover nearly as much as I fear what is occurring now. And that is a Bashar al-Assad success in subduing these people through systematic rape, torture, and murder.

COOPER: Senator, I know you were in these camps with Senator Lieberman. I'm curious what your answer was to people, because I have had so many say to me, where is the world? The world has been watching this happen.

And people cannot say they didn't know about it, because we have all seen the videos, even though reporters haven't been allowed in much over the last 14 months. At great risk themselves, activists have uploaded videos of the slaughter, of the killings.

People say, look, the world knows what's happening. Where is the international community? I assume people said that to you as well. What do you say to respond to them? Because, frankly, I'm not sure what to say.

MCCAIN: Well, you're a journalist, and you have to maintain a certain level of objectivity, although it's very clear that journalists have given their very lives in order to bring the message out of what's going on in Syria. And we honor their memories. And we thank God there are brave people -- brave people like them.

All I can say is that I assure these people in the camps that I will go back and I will tell my colleagues. I will give speeches. I will do anything that I can to motivate the world, and especially with the leadership of the United States, which is sadly lacking right now, to bring about some assistance to them, so at least they can be in a fair fight.

I promise them my commitment. And, frankly, I sleep a lot better than -- having made that commitment.

COOPER: Well, Senator McCain, I appreciate you being with us tonight. Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

And, Anderson, be safe, and thank you for all you're doing.


COOPER: Well, we're calling this special report tonight "Deadly Lies."

And lies is a word journalists don't often use, but I think it's a word that accurately describes what this Syrian regime has been telling and speaking to the world for the last 14 months. We have had numerous Syrian diplomats on our program a number of times. And they said things which were just factually not true, which were lies.

And we have continued to try to confront them about that. Marie Colvin, a journalist from "The Sunday Times," one of the bravest reporters I know, who was killed in Syria, in Homs a few months ago, hours before she died, she also used -- in a conversation with me, she also used those words, lies.

And that's a word I know we get criticized for using from time to time. But we're going to continue to use it, because what the regime is telling you is happening, what they say is happening is not the truth.

If the Assad regime doesn't kill Syrians inside the country, it's trying to murder them by mining the border with Turkey before they can escape to safety -- that part of the story next.


COOPER: Defiant opposition fighters have been able to hold on to some Syrian towns to stop the government from moving in. They're determined to fight against all odds to keep what they have. We're going to meet some of them, people from one village, ahead.


COOPER: As we have reported time and again over the last 14 months, the Syrian regime has been very restrictive of international reporters, only allowing a few into the country, restricting their movement.

Frankly, why would the world -- why would they want the world to witness the wholesale murder it's committing against its own people? So it should come as no surprise that the regime is also trying to prevent Syrians from crossing the border into Turkey, where they can also tell their personal stories.

It should come as no surprise the regime will stop at nothing, including placing land mines on the border, to inflict even more harm.

Ivan Watson has that part of the story.


WATSON (voice-over): Mazen Hajisa has a secret. Here in the olive groves of Turkey, just a stone's throw away from the Syrian border, he's hidden away several styrofoam boxes. Their contents are deadly: unexploded land mines.

"If you put pressure on the black trigger," Hajisa tells me, "it will explode."

Experts say this is a PMN-2 antipersonnel mine, probably manufactured decades ago in the Soviet Union.

But Turkish authorities say Syrian troops began planting these in new minefields along the border earlier this winter. Soon after Hajisa (ph) and several activist friends started digging the mines up, removing more than 300, he claims, in the last three months.

(on camera) Nobody taught you how to pull this kind of mine out of the ground, right?



WATSON (voice-over): And this is why Hajisa (ph) is risking his life to remove land mines. Several weeks ago, a mine blew off Rami Bakour's right foot as he was trying to flee with his family from Syria to Turkey.

"I protested against the Syrian regime. And then the forces came to try to arrest me," he says. "So I tried to smuggle my family out of the country. That's what led me to this fate."

Many of the more than 17,000 refugees currently living in Turkey have relied on smuggler's paths to flee their country. The new mine fields have added yet another threat to an already perilous journey. At least ten Syrian land mine victims are currently being treated in Turkish hospitals.

Hajisa (ph) says he and his friends have been trying to clear the trails for the refugees.

(voice-over) Mazen (ph) is demonstrating how he's been digging up land mines on his own. He does not have any protective equipment, armor, whatsoever, electronics. And his tool of choice is a kebab skewer.

"This is my duty," Hajisa (ph) says. "The refugees must have a safe place to escape to."

The young activist doesn't know what to do with the land mines he's unearthed. He's not trained to destroy them, so he hides them once again under the trees. He may be one of the bravest men you'll ever meet.


COOPER: Ivan Watson joins me now.

What's so remarkable about this story -- and I think it really tells a larger story of what's been going on in Syria -- is we have seen so many people who, they don't have training. This man is not a trained de-miner.

The people who have been taking YouTube videos are not trained journalists. The people who have been protesting have no experience protesting. They've grown up with oppression their entire lives, and yet they have been able to put this regime on its heels.

Despite all the experts who early on, a month into this, were saying there's no way the Assad regime is going to fall. It could fall because of people like him.

WATSON: That's right. I mean, this is true grassroots activism. That's how this movement began. And that's why it's so hard to crush. But these people are taking incredible risks.

COOPER: How's he doing?

WATSON: He -- I saw him today. On Saturday morning, Mazen (ph) was going with five other men through the border fence to go pick up some refugees to bring them back before dawn. And as he was holding the fence open, his cousin stepped through and suddenly an explosion went off...

COOPER: Stepped on a mine?

WATSON: Stepped on a mine. And a second later, another mine exploded. Two guys very seriously injured. The rest of the guys, including Mazen (ph) was injured. He's got burns and shrapnel wounds on his legs.

Two of the guys -- his cousin lost -- they had feet amputated. And -- and he's limping around. And he said he's determined, as soon as he gets better, to go back and start clearing up those mines, which he thinks the Syrian army planted within the last ten days, because that was a route that he had cleared before and that he knew to be open in the past.

COOPER: Professor Fouad Ajami is joining us, as well. It is remarkable when you see this man with a kebab skewer poking around in the ground. And he just -- he feels it's his duty. He's not being paid to do this.

FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR: Well, look, Anderson, the Syrian people have crossed the Rubicon. I mean, this is the fundamental truth of this conflict. They cannot overthrow this regime. You've made that point. It's very true. Not yet.

But what's remarkable is that an emergent society like Syria finally had it with this bunch of killers and bunch of rapists, and they decided that the regime is finished for them.

And we met a man, we talked to him, a man of 75 grieving for his two grandsons who were killed. We met people of property. They did not rebel, because in a way they were, you know, somehow or another prone to rebellion. They made the decision that they cannot have this life of servitude, and that's what the story is all about. COOPER: And yet -- I mean -- you know, we talked in the past in Egypt about fear being defeated. They are no longer afraid. That's the extraordinary thing to me. I mean, we all wonder what would we do if, you know, the government was repressive and a dictator tried to rule over us? Would we stand up? And these people have been tested, and they answered that question.

AJAMI: This rebellion surprised both the Syrian people and the Syrian rulers. Bashar Assad was sure that, given what his dreaded late father, Hafez Assad, did to the Syrian people 30 years ago, that they would never rise again. They surprised him, and they found reservoirs of courage within themselves.

COOPER: Yes. And we've seen that day in and day out now for 14 months.

Ivan managed to actually get into Syria over the weekend. He had to sneak across the border to reach a town that's now being held by opposition forces. It's been pummeled by the regime's crackdown. People who live there remain defiant. We'll have their story next.


COOPER: Welcome back. We're live along the Turkish-Syrian border. More U.N. monitors are on the ground inside Syria, but one Syrian activist tells me it is not nearly enough, that the Assad regime is playing a cat-and-mouse game with them, even going door to door, arresting citizens when they can get away with it. That's next on 360.


COOPER: Well, if it were up to us tonight, we'd be reporting from inside Syria. Syria is just right over there past where those lights are. Trying to bear witness ourselves to the truth on the ground.

As we said, we applied for visas, and they Syrian authorities confirmed they received our applications, but that's all we've heard from them. Radio silence as they continue to kill.

We're live tonight on the Turkish side of the Syrian border. We can't say too many times. It's now been a full month since the so-called ceasefire went into effect. In truth the ceasefire has never really been anything more than just words. Opposition activists say more than 1,000 Syrians have been killed in this last month, under this ceasefire.

It's true the number of U.N. observers on the ground inside Syria tonight is approaching 200, which works out to about one observer for every 110,000 Syrians.

Earlier I spoke with Zaidoun, a Syrian activist who has repeatedly risked his life to talk to us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Zaidoun, the last time we talked, there were a few dozen U.N. observers on the ground. Now there's more than 150, closer to 200. Has the situation changed any?

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (via phone): Slightly, yes. It has changed, at least the shelling on some areas, especially Homs, is a little bit less.

However, the regime is just playing games. And wherever there are observers, there's no shell. Whenever the observers just leave the place, they start shelling.

Since the beginning of the so-called ceasefire, hundreds were killed, despite the fact that observers are here. We need maybe ten times the number that the United Nations Security Council agreed. We need ten times that.

COOPER: I've heard reports from some people inside Syria that, while the regime is relying less on heavy artillery bombardments of civilian areas and of neighborhoods, they're actually going apartment to apartment arresting people, torture, and that the number of arrests has increased. Can you confirm that?

ZAIDOUN: They are so crazy now about arresting people. Every day, all -- every hour we hear about hundreds of people who are arrested. And especially they are focusing right now on any peaceful activists for peaceful resolution. They are just arresting them. They are very, very crazy now about arresting people.

COOPER: I talked to U.S. Senator John McCain, who supports greater military involvement in Syria in support of the Free Syrian Army and opposition forces.

He expressed concern that the longer this goes on, in the kind of current stalemate that it's in right now, the greater the chance of foreign fighters becoming involved, militant groups, jihadist groups, even al Qaeda.

There were two bombings in Damascus last week that a military group claimed responsibility for. Are you seeing a greater role of militants, of jihadists in the opposition movement? And are you concerned about it, if in fact, you're seeing it?

ZAIDOUN: Not at all. This is just, unfortunately, the regime's story. And some people abroad would like to -- would like to believe it. Right now there are no jihadists. I haven't seen any.

Now regarding the bombings that happened last Thursday, no one in Syria doubts that the regime -- who's behind it.

COOPER: Do you feel -- do people you talk to feel abandoned by the world? Abandoned by the international community? Because in past years when they're in -- during the war in Bosnia, people would say, well -- or during, you know, other wars, people have said, "Well, we didn't know what was happening at the time." But we have all been watching for the past year what has been happening in Syria. Every single day we've seen the videos. We've had reporters there from time to time when they're able to get in. Do you feel forsaken?

ZAIDOUN: We are. It's not about feeling. I know we are abandoned by the world.

Annan's plan is wonderful. Six points, really great. We are talking about trying to implement one of them. What about the rest of the five points?

Everybody is happy watching us being killed on daily basis. Nobody -- nobody is -- nobody cares for us. Everybody knows the story. It's OK. We know now. The world is happy watching us being killed, and we will do it on our own. Even if it takes us ten years. We are in the streets and will not change. We will not retreat. We will not give up.

COOPER: There's no going back?

ZAIDOUN: No way. You know, if we go back, this is just like committing suicide. With this regime if we say stop, they will crush us. We will just stay the rest of our lives in jails. They are criminal. They have been killing us for the past 14 months.

Now, if we stop, they will crush us. And this is the chance of life, Anderson. This is our chance of life to get our freedom. We've been dreaming of this moment for the past 40 years. No one can take this from us. No one. We have been dreaming of a moment where we can say in the street what we would like to say without harming anybody.

And now when this moment comes, believe me, not a single one in Syria would lose such a chance.

COOPER: Zaidoun, thank you. Stay safe.

ZAIDOUN: Thank you very much, Anderson.


COOPER: I think that's such a powerful phrase: "This is our chance at life." You hear that from so many people here inside Syria and those here in refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border. There is no going back for so many people here. Literally and figuratively.

So many western journalists have tried to cross into Syria. Some have lost their lives reporting from inside Syria. Some have lost their lives reporting inside Syria. So many brave Syrians have held up cell-phone cameras to document what they have seen with their own lives.

Over the weekend, our Ivan Watson crossed over from Turkey into Syria. Here's what we found in one town where not only is the opposition not backing down, they actually control the town.


WATSON (voice-over): The journey to Syria starts with a brisk walk through olive groves.

(on camera) This is how you get into Syria through a hole in the fence.

(voice-over) This is a country of rich rolling farmland that's in open revolt.

In many towns the rebels are now in complete control. In one village, a rebel occupies the desk where the police chief used to sit.

(on camera) The rebels claim they forced out the security officers from this police station nearly two months ago. And since then, they've been using it as a mini barracks for sleeping quarters. They've also been storing aid: bags of clothing that have been donated from across the border in Turkey, some of which are being stored here in the prison cell.

(voice-over) It's here that we meet Fatima (ph), a homeless mother in mourning. She says three of her sons were killed in recent months while defending their village from the Syrian army. A surviving son, Bassan (ph), was shot through the leg.

The family's now homeless. "Soldiers torched our house," Fatima (ph) says, "and even shot our livestock."

But the Syrian government's vicious crackdown has done little to crush the locals' spirit of defiance. At school, children burst into songs denouncing their president, even though his government still pays for their school books.

(on camera) Classes are still in session here at schools in opposition-controlled Syria. And in a bizarre twist, the teachers here, who are afraid to appear on camera for their own safety, they tell us that, despite the uprising and all the fighting, they still get their salaries every month from the Syrian government.

(voice-over) On a country road, we find a band of Syrian rebels making a show of force. Many of these fighters from the so-called Free Syrian Army are defectors from the Syrian security forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want freedom. Our blood is less expensive for this price (ph) for these mountains, for these trees, for our freedom. Our blood is cheap.

WATSON: The fighters have a prisoner, a 19-year-old boy they say they intercepted as he was on his way to perform his mandatory military service. And the commander shows the documents to prove it.

The prisoner gets an ultimatum: "If you want your freedom, defect."

The boy renounces the government and agrees to join the rebels. The newest, not-so-voluntary rebel recruit in a conflict that has no end in sight. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Ivan Watson joins me now.

You know, during the revolution in Egypt, in Tahrir Square, we saw a lot of different kinds of people. The Muslim Brotherhood kind of played a small role. In the wake of that, they've now come more into power.

So a lot of people say now, well, look, who are these fighters? And are there really jihadists behind them who are going to come into power if they succeed?

WATSON: The guys I've seen on my trips in have tended to be community groups that have risen up; university students; a lot of defected soldiers and police.

However, I am starting to hear from activists and the people who started the protests from the very beginning concerns that they're starting to see armed guys, criminals they're described. And some of them saying, "We're starting to see guys with beards who are questioning our religiosity. And that wasn't what we signed up for 14 months ago." That's a growing concern from some activists I'm talking to.

COOPER: All right. We'll have more with Ivan, more with Professor Fouad Ajami, more from the border here in a moment. We'll be right back.



COOPER: A family of eight lives in this tent. It's actually two tents that have been placed together. Each one is pretty large: about ten feet by 15 feet.

In between the two tents is the cooking area that the family uses to prepare all their meals.


COOPER: That's a family of eight.

They've lost two of their sons. I say lost. Two of their sons were killed in protests. A third son has disappeared. They believe he's been arrested, but they have not gotten any word of him since last June.

So many lives in limbo here. Thousands of Syrians are living in this ten camp just beyond the Syria-Turkey border.

Our special, of course, "Syria's Deadly Lies," is going to continue in a moment. But let's get a quick update on some other stories. Susan Hendricks has a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Susan.


The defense team for John Edwards called its first witness today, the chief financial officer for Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign. She testified that John Edwards had nothing to do with reports the campaign filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Prosecutors say Edwards violated campaign finance laws by using nearly $1 million in donations to help cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter.

Florida A&M University's famous and troubled marching band will remain suspended for at least the 2012-2013 academic year. The school is working to clean up a hazing culture exposed by the death of Robert Champion last year.

And fallout at JPMorgan Chase. The firm said its chief investment officer, Ina Drew, has decided to retire, the move widely expected after the company disclosed the unit Drew managed lost $2 billion in recent weeks.

Let's send it back to Anderson.

COOPER: Susan, thanks very much.

We're going to have more with Ivan Watson and Fouad Ajami, the latest from inside Syria next.


COOPER: We're coming to you from the Turkish/Syrian border. I'm here once again with Ivan -- Ivan Watson and Professor Fouad Ajami.

Your final thoughts on being here?

AJAMI: My final thought, I recommend to President Obama to read the memoirs of Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton looked back on his presidency, and looked back on Rwanda, and felt the shame and the guilt of having left the people of Rwanda to suffer the way they did. I think -- I think President Obama will reflect on the -- the abdication of the American power in the case Syria.

COOPER: Ivan, you've been covering this for going on 14 months.

WATSON: I think what's striking is 14 months, and every Friday people come out and demonstrate and call for freedom and call for change. And the kids come out and the men and the women. And the fact that that momentum is kept up after all this time is truly incredible.

One of the sad things, we don't know what the people in the middle think. We know what the regime supporters think. We know what the die-hard demonstrators think. We don't know about the scared people in the middle who are too afraid to talk to us, who we can't reach because we can't go in, who are slowly watching their country being torn apart by this conflict. And I'd like to hear their voices. COOPER: And most of the people in these camps are Sunni Muslims who have borne the brunt of the assault by the Assad regime. You can hear the call to prayer happening just now.

Ivan Watson, Professor Fouad Ajami, thank you very much. That does it for us in this special edition of "360." Thanks very much for watching. I hope you heard the voices of the people here. Voices that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has tried to silence for 14 months.