Background to Syria's power struggle
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused the Syrian government of killing more than 2,000 of its own citizens during its ongoing crackdown against opposition activists.
Reports from inside Syria suggest the suppression of protest in the city of Hama is continuing.
As the unrest escalates, many fear the country is dividing along sectarian lines.
President Assad and his family are from a branch of Shia Islam known as the Alawites, who have a stranglehold on power, as the BBC's Mike Wooldridge reports.