CNN's Nic Robertson Talks About His Recent Reporting From Syria (VIDEO)

02/15/2012 10:11 am ET | Updated Feb 15, 2012

It took the weight of the entire Arab League to get CNN's Nic Robertson into Syria last month.

The country has become deeply hostile to journalists since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began last March; reporters have been forced to sneak in to find out what is really happening on the ground.

It was only when the Arab League pressured the government to allow more media in as part of a monitoring mission that the Syrian government relented.

In an interview with The Huffington Post on Monday, Robertson said that a Syrian official candidly told him that the government was "filtering" out reporters to keep the numbers who were in the country at any one time relatively low. Even then, he was only granted a four-day visa into the country. The government renewed it twice, and then refused to renew it again.

It was Robertson's first trip into Syria since the revolt against Assad. He said that there was a very noticeable change in the mood of the country.

"[The capital] Damascus sort of looks and feels like it’s functioning normally...[but there's] far less traffic on the streets," he said. "Generators are selling like hotcakes."

When Robertson left the capital, the change was even starker. "Highways that would normally be busy are empty," he said. "People that we talked to were afraid of even driving." He also noticed the severely divided place that he said Syria has seemed to become in the wake of the uprising.

"People are becoming much more embittered and hardened," he said.

Robertson put the level of Assad's support in the country at around 20 to 30 percent — a not-insignificant minority — and said that, barring some dramatic change in that support or in Assad's military might, the government could maintain its grip on power for the foreseeable future. He also said that "there's a percentage of people who would dearly like the opposition to just say what their vision is" for the country.

Robertson and his crew were not allowed to take laptops into Syria, and they had to get written permission to film inside Damascus. When they traveled with Arab League monitors, they found themselves relatively unencumbered, though the monitors were flanked by police and soldiers.

"We were able to follow the monitors wherever they were going," he said. "...We were able to get to the opposition [that way]."

The team also went on one government-sponsored trip. They were lucky, though, when they turned down the chance to attend a pro-government rally. A French journalist, Gilles Jacquier wound up being gruesomely killed there.

Robertson described one eerie trip to a town close to the Lebanese border. He passed through the villages surrounding the town, and found that they were all deserted. In contrast, the 30-mile trip from Homs (which has been one of the bloodiest centers of the uprising) to Hama was overflowing with soldiers.

Robertson said he did not expect any international forces to intervene in the conflict, though there has certainly been talk about it. NATO, he said, did not want to get involved, and "it’s hard to see how putting in peacekeepers could be successful if Assad is still committed to his path."

Since the uprising took an even more deadly turn in the last weeks, the government has again clamped down on foreign media.

"I remain hopeful that they will let us come into the country,” Robertson said, adding that if the government didn’t, reporters would continue to find “enterprising ways” to sneak into Syria. Sure enough, reporters ranging from the BBC's Paul Wood to CNN's own Arwa Damon (the only U.S. reporter currently in the country) have done just that.