February 7th, 2012
01:59 PM ET

Slaughter in Syria: Rocket attacks, blood in the streets and a relentless fight for freedom

Throughout Syrian neighborhoods, the bombardment does not stop. It is relentless in its power. And it spares nobody, regardless of age.

Rocket and mortar fire pelts the town and the people striving to defend themselves against what they say is a brutal regime.

Graphic videos showing the battle against Bashar al-Assad's regime paint a gruesome picture of life in the country as residents struggle to release themselves from the grasp of a ruler they say they no longer want. Activists claim the Syrian city of Homs is under heavy bombardment by government forces, a claim the regime denies.

But the footage is so raw, it's hard to look at and hard not to look at. While many of the details in the videos cannot be independently verified by CNN, the images alone are still haunting.

A child with bloodied clothing lies in a hospital, unable to move because her legs have been blown off. Some videos show bodies in the streets. Blood flows down the faces of people who are said to be victims of the attacks.

The blood of Syrians continues to flow, as does their anger - at both the regime they claim is killing them and international powers that have yet to be able to help stem the bloodshed.

The violence ratcheted up again after Russia and China on Saturday vetoed a United Nations Security Council draft resolution that would have demanded al-Assad stop the violence and seek a solution to the crisis.

Vetoes lead Syria to bloody stalemate

Many activists say they saw the vetoes as a green light for the Syrian regime to strengthen its crackdowns, though the government denies that.

After the vetoes, the U.S. and other governments said they would try other ways to pressure the Syrian government. On Tuesday, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the days of al-Assad's leadership "are numbered."

What is happening in Syria?

As the government sought to present an image of broad popular support on Tuesday after a day of brutal violence, opposition activists reported more deaths.

At least 21 people were killed Tuesday, including 15 in Homs, a 15-year-old just outside Homs and five in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani.  At least 128 people were killed across the country Monday, mostly in Homs, according to the opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission.

"The situation is beyond description," the commission said in a statement. "Some of these martyrs were killed with shrapnel and the others were under the rubble, and their bodies couldn't be identified because they were in remains."

Mousab Azzawi of the Syrian Network for Human Rights said "the situation is very dire." Monday was almost "like a bloodbath," he said.

"We have pictures of children under the age of 14 with half of their faces blown away, with children under the age of 4 with all of their bodies with nail bombs. We have pictures of one child who was dying on the lap of his mother under the age of 1," Azzawi said.

Residents are trying to get the message out to media outlets around the globe that they are terrified of their government and of dying.

U.N. officials have estimated that 6,000 people have died since protests began nearly a year ago. The Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists that organizes and documents protests, said that at least 7,339 people have been killed.

CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports from Syria because the government has restricted journalists' access to the country. That means much of what we're seeing is an uprising being streamed on YouTube.

Mashable: World watches Syria’s uprising on YouTube

While attempts at diplomacy have failed to curb the estimated thousands of deaths in the 11-month-old conflict, residents and opposition activists say they are desperate for help in stopping the slaughter.

Who is fighting, and what are they hoping for?

When Bashar al-Assad became president in 2000, he promised a modern Syria. Human Rights Watch has called his time as president "the wasted decade," with media that remain controlled by the state, a monitored and censored Internet, and prisons filled with dissidents.

Now, after claims of brutal crackdowns and undelivered promises, opposition supporters just want an end to his rule.

Who is al-Assad? 

But it's not all that easy to figure out who is leading the charge against al-Assad.

Rival dissident army officers claim to lead the increasingly armed rebellion within Syria. The rift means it is unclear how much command the exiled officers have over defecting troops and other opposition groups.

During the more than 10 months since the uprising began, competing civilian exiles have also claimed leadership of the revolution.

Some Western diplomats working closely with opposition groups have privately expressed frustration with dissidents' lack of unity, even as the death toll continues to rise.

One thing is clear: Those who say they have been oppressed by the regime, who have been brutally beaten or who have seen friends die want to make sure they are doing what they can to end violence for other Syrians.

Those who attend nightly rallies in Damascus tell CNN's Arwa Damon that all they want is to be treated with dignity and respect, to voice their opinions without reprisal, to speak for the thousands killed, detained and tortured since the uprisings began in March.

And then there are some who feel like those at the rallies but are afraid of the turmoil and uncertainty, and so they remain caught in the middle.

On the streets of Syria, every day brings more reports of deaths. One disturbing video surfaced on YouTube purportedly showing several members of a slain family. In the video, the mother's eyes appeared to be gouged out. At least four children died with their parents. Opposition groups say the family was killed by government forces in Homs.

A rare glimpse inside protests in Syria

Such brutality isn't uncommon, according to a newly released report from Human Rights Watch.

"Syrian security forces have killed, arrested and tortured children in their homes, their schools or on the streets," said Lois Whitman, children's rights director at Human Rights Watch.

What are the politics?

Saturday's veto by U.N. Security Council members Russia and China of a draft resolution that would have demanded al-Assad stop the violence against the opposition has complicated international efforts to deal with the situation.

Russia and China said that although they support an end to the violence and want to promote dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition, they believe the resolution would have been one-sided. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in particular said the draft would have called on the Syrian government to stop violence "without the same for the armed groups."

Western diplomats expressed amazement at the vetoes, saying the resolution was watered down to accommodate other Russian concerns. The resolution had dropped demands from an Arab League plan for Syria to form a unity government and for al-Assad to delegate power to his deputy. U.N. diplomats said this was done because Russia had been reluctant to sign on to any plan that could be seen as a mandate for regime change in Damascus.

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the United States was "disgusted" at the veto, and she said of Russia, "This intransigence is even more shameful when you consider that one of these members continues to deliver weapons to Assad."

Clinton: Vetoes a 'travesty' | Opinion: Why Russia protects Syria's al-Assad

Russia is one of Syria's biggest arms suppliers, and both Russia and China have various reasons to have friendly relations with Damascus, analysts in the United States said. The total value of Syrian contracts with the Russian defense industry probably exceeds $4 billion, according to Jeffrey Mankoff, an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies Russia and Eurasia Program. Russia also leases a naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartus, giving the Russian navy its only direct access to the Mediterranean, Mankoff told CNN's Holly Yan.

And China was Syria's third-largest importer in 2010, according to data from the European Commission.

Why do China, Russia protect al-Assad?

Russia's Lavrov bristled at the veto criticisms, saying Western states "are trying to obscure the developments with hysterical statements on Russia's veto of the Syria resolution." China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, "China does not shelter anyone. We uphold justice and take a responsible attitude. We want the Syrian people to be free from the scourge of conflict and warfare."

And Syria's U.N. ambassador accused some powers of giving support, "in terms of money, and arms, and favorable media coverage, to armed terrorist groups that kill, abduct, and intimidate Syrian citizens."

Opinion: Veto begins proxy game pitting Arab Gulf states against Russia, Iran

Threat of proxy war, times two, in Syria

Nations that supported the resolution are now trying other ways to pressure the Syrian regime. The Gulf Cooperation Council which includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait announced Tuesday that its member states are pulling their ambassadors from Syria. Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Italy called home their ambassadors as well, and the United States closed its embassy in Damascus, saying Syria wasn't addressing its security concerns.

Mark Toner, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said that "by no means are we done here."

"We hear the people of Syria, and we want to move to support them. We’ve already got in place very strong sanctions, both bilaterally and multilaterally, and we’re going to seek to take additional steps against the Assad regime," he said this week.

What happens now?

Syria’s al-Assad has found a way to remain in power longer than many of the other leaders disposed of during the Arab protests, despite the growing protests against him.

Many leaders, including President Obama, have said it is time for al-Assad to step down. For many, it’s a question of just how long he can hold out amid international pressure.

But for the residents dealing with the daily increasing violence, the situation boils down to just more than a waiting game.

They are exhausted from fighting, but will continue to do so even if it means more blood in the streets, they say.

The U.S. State Department has constantly been briefing Americans via Twitter on how to contact the agency if they are caught in an emergency.

For some, the call will be for the global powers to finally put an end to al-Assad or to help the people of Syria do it themselves, in a fashion similar to Libya and the downfall of late strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Some want to see al-Assad fall at the hands of his own people.

Syria is on the brink of a civil war. And it could be a brutal one.

With the failure of U.N. action because of the veto, the conflict could escalate, wrote Shadi Hamid, a director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, in a column for CNN.

“With that fateful decision, the conflict moved to another, more dangerous stage,” Hamid wrote. “Those who warn that Syria will descend into civil war are a bit behind: It is already in civil war. Now it will only intensify.”

Hamid said the next step may be deciding whether military intervention is necessary, and if so, by whom.

“So we find ourselves in an odd but increasingly common situation, where Syrians themselves are more enthusiastic about foreign military intervention than Americans are,” Hamid writes. “It is, in this sense, the reverse of Iraq, which was rightly seen by many as a tragic Western imposition.”

How much do we owe it to Syrians to step in and help drive the final nail into the coffin of al-Assad's regime? And would it be different than the situation in Iraq, because perhaps some of the people there would like the U.S. and others to step in?

“Here, it is Syrians themselves who are pleading for the international community to come to their aid. In December, the Syrian National Council "formally endorsed" foreign intervention,” Hamid wrote. “If they formally request military assistance - presumably the next step - we have a moral responsibility to take it seriously.”

soundoff (566 Responses)
  1. cacalips

    Must kill Russia and China in order to stop this. To bad half us debt owned by China, and oil on russia is to precious to comrpomise relations. Now all you can do is watch. Watch the world burn for your ignorance and insulance. Try changing it physcially, all citizens, and you too will be bombarded by your own government to silence you. WATCH MONKEYS WATCH

    February 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • js

      what is the true in Syria? You only see thing from CNN

      February 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • luckydog

      The widescreen you bought from china has blood on it. those damn chinese (and russians) are sociopaths and criminals. we have to find a way to stop buying chinese!!!! any ideas??

      February 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • josheph

      to
      too
      two

      learn the difference

      February 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • midogs2

      Howard Cossell was fired from ABC's Monday Night Football for making a statement like you made, that last sentence. I am not a monkey!

      February 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tima

    @Sam8888 when I said 30% I hope realize I did not mean that literally. I meant that media is twisting it to force public opinion that we need another war somewhere. You probably knew that anyway. Assad is not the perfect president, neither was his dad. YOU have no right to call his administartion a gang, why you ask? Well because our country supported one worse then him in Egypt (MUbarak) for tens of years.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Mubarak is an angel compared to Ass-ad, you should visit Syria and see for yourself, a government that kiils 10,000 of its own 400 children 300 women to stay in power is not more that a gang

      February 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bashar

    Thank you Russia, China. Now I kill all people who not like me.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. robg

    Before he UN. . .Countries handled there own problems. The counties can not rely on the world to solve there problems.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Shaz

    Even when we're not the world police, people still get angry.

    lol.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sam8888

    Warning, Ass-ad secret police working overtime posting comments to whitewash Ass-ad crimes

    February 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. janespoker

    Sunni muslims comprise 74% of Syrian populationa and Alawi are amongst the remainder. The Sunni could be upset that a minority is ruling them especially when way back the alawites took all the government positons from the Sunnis.

    Of course, there is a grudge and if somebody gave arms to Sunnis, voila, there you go – a conflict. This stuff didn't happen overnight. Somebody was preparing them, and most importantly somebody promised a positive outcome and backing to Sunnis. That is why they are holding up against the army. They are waiting for NATO bombers. In exchange they get to rule the country and the U.S. can establish a few bases.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Atanu Banerjee

    Arab League must immediately appeal to International Court of Justice for arrest warrant against Assad. I don't see any other way to stop this mass killing. Thanks.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      How about the Arab league take care of the problem itself, and leave the rest of the world out of it?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kris

    YOU ARE BEING BRAINWASHED. WATCH RT.COM. THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE IN SIRIA ON STREETS TODAY CHEERING RUSSIAN'S DECISION. THATS WHERE THE TRUTH IS.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      yeah rt.com is a russian network so of course they are going to show that..

      February 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Marilyn

    What kind of God allows these atrocities to occur and continue whether it be from war or some individual's cruelty toward another human being??? I would rather kill another than to watch him suffer and if no one wants to do anything about getting this suffering stopped then I say blow that area off the map and put the innocent out of their suffering. I would give China and Russia one last chance to change their minds on that veto then those powers that be would go down if I had to put them down myself. Do I sound calloused much??? I am fed up to the eyebrows with people suffering at the hands of these glorified idiots and others who seem to get off on it.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • careful reader

      the same God who allowed Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. If this is bad, wake up from your safe little world, you ain't seen nothing yet.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marilyn

      Thx careful reader. That is just the point I am awake and feel totally helpless to come to the aid of other's suffering. Yes compared to many I have lived in a "safe little world" but this does not mean I have not been affected by this world's atrocities and it sickens me. I do believe you are right that I and the rest of the world ain't seen nothing yet.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tima

    Sam8888 you obviously know nothing about Egypt or Syria or their ex and current presidents. I feel this discussion with you is going nowhere, I can tell that you probably did not serve in the armed forces and never been to the middle east and dont know any people from there. I do know Egyptians who lived under Mubarak and were there during the revolt and dont say nothing because Mubarak was a terrible guy who actually commited crimes against his own people and US helped him with billions of dollars.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      I lived in Egypt for 5 yeas, I lived in Syria for 15 years and served in the armed forces for 2 years, you are the one who does not know what she is talking about, and would say again Ass-ad gang does not belong to humanity, they killed between 20,000 to 50,000 of the Syrian people 30 years ago and they are doing the same thing now, and in 50 more Syrian have been killed by Ass-ad gang than the number of Syrian killed by their supposed enemy Israel

      February 7, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Catch Yaser Said

    Sam8888
    The people of that country harbor terrorist pls spare us. Why help them help terrorist?

    February 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Keep your lies, no body will believe you you are still living in the 80s when your boss Ass-ad killed more than 40,000 claiming he is fighting Muslim brotherhood, you can not do this now, but keep lying I am sure if you repeat it too many times maybe someone will believe.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Really CNN?

    CNN has been pushing this Syria garbage for a week an a half now. And I suspect that as soon as the US, NATO, or some combination of the two gets involved, they will be spamming articles lambasting US involvement.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. anon

    I'm encouraged to see all the comments calling shenanigans on US Media as being blood thirsty for war. I bet an all out war with Syria and Iran would be great for ratings.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. gdouglaso

    China and Russia suck. Big time.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      I disagree – their position is simply "Stay out of another country's civil war". If you disagree, go over there yourself and fight with the Syrians. Don't send my money or my kids over there.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
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