Although Damascus is in many ways a modern city, ancient hatreds are flaring up within it, bleeding across borders from Iran to Israel to Lebanon.
Some say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is to blame for the recent unrest in the region.
It's a charge that has been passed down to Assad from his father, Hafez al-Assad, the former president of Syria who Richard Nixon once said had a touch of genius playing three-D chess to keep Syria secure in the Middle East -- tilting a little to America's enemies, then tilting a little back.
Now, Assad, 41, is at the center of a crisis that would challenge even his father.
In a few months, a U.N. tribunal is expected to accuse Syria, possibly even Assad's brother-in-law, and the chief of military intelligence of political assassination in Lebanon.
While Americans insist Assad pull away from a meddling and menacing Iran, Assad says Syria and Iran have been allies since his dad's presidency -- for 25 years.
In an exclusive interview, Assad told ABC's Diane Sawyer that Syria needed Iran and that there was no evidence that Syria had a hand in the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister. He also spoke about human rights issues that had been brought against Syria.
Assad: So should I tell them, "You have to go away from me. I don't need your support," when the rest of the world is trying to isolate Syria? Of course not. We need the support of Iran. We need the support of every other country.
Sawyer: The United States is reportedly, next week, this week going to announce the documentation it has of Iranian military support for insurgents in Iraq. Do you believe this is happening?
Assad: We cannot say concretely what's happening there. But before the war in Iraq … they say there's WMD in Iraq. We didn't find any weapons of mass destruction. They said there's a link between Saddam and al Qaeda. It hasn't been proven yet. So why should we believe them?
Sawyer: A quick question about Lebanon. As you know the United Nations has a tribunal and they are investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and they have said they have forensic, they have financial, they have witness evidence that it leads to Syria.
Sawyer: If indeed, they have evidence and they present it, would you turn over to them, any Syrian official who is implicated?
Assad: I said that publicly, if anyone that could have been involved in such a crime is a traitor. So before turning him over, he will be tried under our laws and our constitution.
Sawyer: Before turning him over?
Assad: Of course in our tribunal, yes, because it's a matter of sovereignty.
Sawyer: Because you know the implication is they have evidence about your brother-in-law?
Assad: If they have any evidence, any concrete evidence, they have to show it off. We haven't had any such evidence. We only have accusations. No evidence at all.
Sawyer: And the report that PM Hariri came here, met with you, and I think the quote they gave, that the tribunal gave -- "You said that you would break Lebanon over his head" -- and he left so angry that he had to [take] blood pressure medication.
Assad: [I have] heard this story many times, but this is just a political accusation. We only heard these stories after the assassination. Why didn't we hear these stories before the assassination? [These are] only false pretenses.