March 5th, 2012
11:56 AM ET

Syria in crisis: Gruesome violence escalates as attacks expand across country

Editor's Note: After nearly a year of conflict in Syria, opposition activists say regime forces are ramping up lethal action across the country.

The following is a look at where the conflict in Syria stands, how it started, and how other nations are reacting.

Violence increases as cities are pummeled

At first the brutality of the attacks seemed isolated. There were harrowing accounts of devastating shelling, sniper fire and executions in the Syrian city of Homs. There were bodies strewn about the streets. Remaining families huddled in makeshift shelters hoping to somehow make it out alive.

And now, the people of Homs are not the only ones.

The brutal campaign of death is spreading in a fresh wave of violence, opposition activists tell CNN’s Nic Robertson.

While earlier attacks seemed focused on specific areas, like the neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs, Robertson reports that now the violence and death seem to be widespread throughout the country. You could name nearly any major city in the north, south, east or west of Syria now and find tales of slaughter and unrelenting violence coming from each of them.

First there was the rocket attack on the western city of Rastan over the weekend. But now the regime’s lethal attention has apparently turned to cities across the country, opposition activists said.

It appears the Syrian regime is stepping up raids and arrests just about everywhere, detaining hundreds of civilians in the past two days, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, an opposition activist group, said Monday.

And perhaps tactics inside Syria are changing too. Videos show a disturbing development that seems to indicate jihad has come to Syria. The videos show varying attacks in different parts in Syria, mainly on government forces, that closely resemble jihadist attacks that are the hallmark of al Qaeda. They are recorded by a cameraman and fully capture the carnage.

It could be seen as a sign that Syria's protests are morphing into an armed uprising. The Syrian government has long claimed that it is fighting terrorists. But so far, few of the opposition fighters have fit the stereotype of terrorists. Most activists are unarmed, and the Free Syrian Army has denied links with Islamic extremism.

Western officials say al Qaeda in Iraq has sent a small number of fighters into Syria. Their experience makes them some of the most effective fighters against the Syrian military, but their presence also makes international intervention even more problematic. It means the fledgling Free Syrian Army may be graduating to more ambitious attacks.

A group that released one of the videos calls itself The Nusra Front to Protect the Levant. And this seems the most credible claim of responsibility for one of the most devastating attacks yet on the Syrian military.

This new trend could mean even more violence, as a more armed and ambitious opposition tries to fend off fresh waves of attacks from the Syrian regime.

A battle destroys Baba Amr; fresh claims of executions

For weeks we’ve heard about horrific actions inside Homs and its Baba Amr neighborhood, where CNN reporters witnessed some of the brutality firsthand. Baba Amr had been one of the more prominent pockets of anti-regime resistance before many of the activists retreated following nearly three weeks of constant shelling.

Baba Amr was an opposition stronghold where activists coordinated and told the world about their activities, but government forces surrounded the neighborhood and began shelling it in early February. Homes were obliterated and civilians holed up in dire conditions, including little to no food and no electricity. Activists such as “Danny,”  whose real name we're not using for security reasons, relayed stories of the conditions, posted videos purporting to show the violence there, and called on the international community to help.

And while many of the opposition fighters may have left, fresh videos give a horrifying glimpse into what’s happened there – and what residents say is continuing to occur.

Those who still remain in Baba Amr want you to know that while the rebels have retreated, they are still suffering and things are getting even worse.

Residents are telling stories of grim details of reprisals now that the rebels have left. And they say they have the video to prove it.

New videos posted from Homs suggest a fresh wave of killings by the Syrian military after the fall of the neighborhood of Baba Amr.

Activists have provided CNN with footage purportedly showing the bodies of 17 civilians that were discovered February 29 in villages near Baba Amr following an all-out assault on the neighborhood that had held off a government assault for weeks.

Much of the video is too graphic to show on air, but analysis of the video shows at least 12 bodies.

In one section, bodies are piled up in the back of a truck bed covered in blankets. Snow falls on the bodies as people in the background wail, some shouting, "There is no God but God!" One man off camera says, "These are the victims of the massacre by the Shabiha (a government militia), entire families slaughtered by the forces of Assad" a reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Several of the victims appear to have been shot in the head, with some showing signs of deep cuts to the face and other body parts. At least one victim appears to have had his arms tied up using red strips of cloth.

Activist group Avaaz listed 17 names of the victims that it said it had confirmed, and claimed at least six of the men came from one family, named Sabouh.

In another video, the camera pans down a line of five bodies wrapped in shrouds, as someone off camera reads off their names.

Avaaz, citing an FSA source, said “hundreds of bodies” lie in the rubble of shelled houses in Baba Amr and in the streets. Opposition groups say Syrian forces executed 14 civilians after the forces moved into the neighborhood Thursday. Dima Moussa, spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Council of Homs, told CNN that government forces have begun a “raid-and-arrest” campaign in Baba Amr.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said an aid convoy seeking to deliver food and medical care to Baba Amr was turned back on Friday. The ICRC says the Syrian government had earlier given the convoy permission.

Opposition groups say Syrian officials are purposefully keeping aid workers out of Baba Amr to conceal atrocities.

Meanwhile, government forces, backed by tanks, have surrounded the Sunni-dominated Homs neighborhoods of Bab Tadmur and Jib al-Jandali, the Revolutionary Council of Homs said. Intense fighting was reported in those areas, and a video posted by an opposition activist claimed to show smoke rising from Bab Tadmur after a shelling attack.

Protests continue elsewhere in Syria, with an opposition group saying 16 people died Friday in Rastan when a shell fired by Syrian forces exploded in a crowd of demonstrators. Deaths also were reported in Idlib,Hama,Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Dourna, Daraa and Lattakia, according to the LCC.

Photos: Friday protests in Binnish, an opposition enclave in northwest Syria 

How brutal crackdown began

The conflict erupted in March 2011, when al-Assad's Alawite minority-dominated government launched a crackdown against a predominantly Sunni anti-government protest movement that eventually devolved into an uprising with an armed resistance. Al-Assad is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The spark, CNN’s Joe Sterling writes, began in the southern Syria city of Daraa with the arrests of at least 15 children for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of a school. The community's outrage over the children's arrests and the government's humiliating and violent reactions to their worries emboldened and helped spread the Syrian opposition.

The Free Syrian Army, which consists of many disparate militia groups operating under the FSA banner, has grown over the months and is made up primarily of former regime soldiers who refused to accept orders to fire on innocent protesters.

The United Nations estimates more than 7,500 people have died during the conflict, while an opposition activist group puts the toll at more than 9,000 people. The Syrian government says more than 2,000 security personnel have been killed in the violence.

Al-Assad has denied targeting civilians, saying his forces are after armed gangs and foreign fighters bent on destabilizing Syria. But evidence to the contrary has been documented by citizen journalists and opposition members, who post their work on social media websites and YouTube.

What other nations are doing

United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday who said that the Syrian government will face a “day of reckoning” for its deadly crackdown on opposition groups follows a flurry of developments in Syria in the past 48 hours, including rebels’ retreat from their former stronghold in Homs.

His statements come as international pressure against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been building. On Thursday, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution that condemned Syria's "widespread and systematic violations of human rights," and called on the regime to permit aid groups in to distribute relief.

The U.N. Human Rights Council's condemnation of the crackdown punctuates a growing international consensus against the al-Assad regime and its policies.

But despite enormous international pressure from the U.N., the United States, the European Union and member nations of the Arab League to bring about an end to the violence, al-Assad has continued to push forward with the crackdown.

On Friday, the European Union formally recognized the opposition Syrian National Council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. French President Nicolas Sarkozy also announced Friday that France would close its embassy in Damascus.

Earlier this year, Russia(a Soviet-era ally and arms dealer to Syria) and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government. But last week, representatives of other international powers, including the United States, met in Tunisia for a Friends of Syria meeting to begin working on ways to stop the violence, devise a political solution and deliver aid.

The Friends of Syria meeting stressed the importance of the political opposition movement, including the Syrian National Council, but the group didn't refer to armed conflict as a solution, even though a Saudi Arabian diplomat said arming rebels would be a very good idea.

The Syrian National Council announced Thursday it had established a "military bureau" to coordinate with the Free Syrian Army.

The United States has not committed to arming the opposition. But it has clamped down on Syria with sanctions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that diplomatic efforts were under way to peel away support from al-Assad, and that al-Assad’s “illegitimate regime ... is going to fall."

Some critics of the Obama administration’s stance on Syria say it isn’t doing enough. Blake Hounshell, managing editor of Foreign Policy, writes that the United States has not done all it can to hasten al-Assad's exit.

soundoff (361 Responses)
  1. toadears

    Hooray for you! You got to slag off the French, the press, and the West all in one post! Congrats, commrade.

    March 3, 2012 at 3:37 am | Report abuse |
  2. Levend

    Syria have anything to Exploit, France only gets involved if they can exploit

    March 3, 2012 at 4:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Elastolinus

      Not true! The French help the Americans during the Revolution war and there was nothing to exploit!!!! Lafayette just liked the idea of liberty. At the battle of Yorktown, there were more casualties on the French side than on the American side.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      And who do you want them to help?

      Johnny, behind curtain 1 we have: A ruthless dictator. Murderer of women and children using his army of crazed killers.

      or

      Behind Curtain 2 we have: A group of Al Quaeda sympathizers, who support the murderers or women and childen, who use suicide bombers to kill and destroy. Yes Johnny they danced in the streets on 9/11 but are asking France, UK, and the US for assistance to stop the brutal war. After which they would turn on any of them in thanks.

      Hmmm.. which is it..?

      March 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • FedUpWithBigGovernment

      Exactly!... you hit the nail right on the head... let them butcher each other... and we should NOT SPEND ONE DIME to provide assistance.

      March 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • FedUpWithBigGovernment

      Exactly.. you hit the nail right on the head.. thats why the Syrians need to sort this out for themselves.. NO USA INVOLVEMENT WHATSOEVER. Let them brutalize each other. Then if they WIN their freedom from their oppressors.. maybe they will not be inclined to let some other dictators take over (taliban. mullahs... or some other insane people etc..)

      March 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Common sense over fear.

      @ Levend
      Why else should they? When you go around trying to police the world out of a sense or moral superiority, you are deemed a crusading imperial.

      March 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mephistopheles

      The same could be said for America...

      March 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • bigDizzle

      So does any other nation. I'm glad to see that you live in the magical country NoWhere, where people stop evil from happening for the shear preservation of values as opposed to an obvious conflict of interest or opportunity for personal benefit. The weather is always better NoWhere and in NoWhere everyone is willing to throw their own lives on the line for everyone else and expect absolutely nothing in return. Surely you are far more evolved than the citizens of AnyWhere and we should house you in a brothel so you can spread your perfection as fast as physically possible.

      March 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ma & pa

    Here, maybe, is glimpse of why rule of al Assads has held so far. They set a rule, government version of anything is final, no dissent...penalty for questions- interrogation to death–keep everyone afraid, silent and on best behavior. Protect selected minority groups, religions–keeps them loyal to government, keeps sectarian violence to a minimum and lets people feel safer as long they don't question government policies. Keep reasonable standard of living available. Hope people guess that rule by theocracy will break foundations of personal freedom. Mislabel and turn a deaf ear to those who voice dissent (never share discussions to resolve differences) and kill them along with civilian families to enforce government rule. Kill government soldiers who refuse to kill their own unarmed neighbors. Don't let anyone know it happened. But this time a horrified World saw it happen. Now what? Outside radicals are waiting for the government to crumble. Who wants to try to build and live in a free Republic based on what might become waring factions? Who wants our kind of government there, anyway, and would they know what to do with it if they had it? Maybe existing government plans to hold on until the world forgets what happened.

    March 3, 2012 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
    • m

      It is called a Dictatorship..

      March 3, 2012 at 4:53 am | Report abuse |
    • jackola

      Dictatorship is the only form of government that Arabs accept. Don't delude yourself.

      March 3, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  4. guest

    Don't get me wrong, I'm patriotic, but what would the US do if a group tried to overthrow the government. The gov't would fight back...not against innocent citizens, but what if the protesters fought from their homes?

    March 3, 2012 at 4:28 am | Report abuse |
    • ak

      the difference is that the syrian 'government' is NOT elected by the people , the Assad clan/gang/mob etc.. came to power some 50 years ago through a military coup and been ruling since through murder , torture and intimidation . That is the difference

      March 3, 2012 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Total2199

      What about other middle eastern "democratic" monarchies that US supports? I do not remember them being elected. When Saudi's king asks for a regime change in Syria West must think twice

      March 3, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • stateschool

      The only thing the US government and the Syrian government have in common is that they are both governments.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ned

    @The spark, CNN’s Joe Sterling writes, began in the southern Syria city of Daraa with the arrests of at least 15 children for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of a school. The community's outrage over the children's arrests and the government's humiliating and violent reactions to their worries emboldened and helped spread the Syrian opposition."

    If you do that in America you will be arrested too...

    March 3, 2012 at 4:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Total2199

      Absolutely...and parents will be billed for removing the graffiti

      March 3, 2012 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • JOE

      Unless you're an illegal alien.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  6. Sveadal

    Christians will be finished if Assad falls.
    Al Qaeda and Burkas.

    Iran needs a slap on the arm though.
    A joint attack from the gulf states with US weaponry . Iran has the biggest ground force, but it's technology lacks. It gives Gulfers the power and secret imagery from the US and A.
    Zionists, keep your cool.
    Be prepared to fight your own war with Iran.

    March 3, 2012 at 5:03 am | Report abuse |
    • BalUchistan

      Iran regime won't let us have a Sunni mosque here in southeastern Iran, but they will give our hard-earned tax dollars to Hamas
      Hamas is a Sunni designated terrer group.
      We want a mosque. Not a bomb.
      We just want permission.
      The Iranian Shia regime say all Muslims not equal in their eyes.

      March 3, 2012 at 5:12 am | Report abuse |
    • A

      Baluchistan, Is it a mosque or a wahabi madressa you're trying to open in your area. We all know what your wahabi madressas have done to Pakistan, transformed a progressive nations into extremists, religious bigots.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
    • JustHereFotThePeanuts

      "A joint attack from the gulf states with US weaponry . Iran has the biggest ground force, but it's technology lacks. It gives Gulfers the power and secret imagery from the US and A."

      Technology lacking? I hear they have a pretty sophisticated drone now"

      March 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. m

    Freedom ...
    To the brave Syrian activists...you are not forgotten...

    March 3, 2012 at 5:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Total2199

      Sure, you are not forgotten dancing on the streets after 9/11....

      March 3, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • stateschool

      Did you know that Fox Entertainment News couldn't get any video of large groups of demonstrators in the middle east celebrating 9/11, so they aired old file footage of a demonstration in South America (Argentina, I think, but it's been a while) and claimed it was Palestine?

      March 3, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  8. ma & pa

    The thought often occurs, how much is managed media,and why believe anything? Maybe it's worse. How bad does worldwide chaos have to get before almost everyone begs for a form of personal controlling rather than free-will decision making? Oops, too much late night sci-fi nightmares. Wake up ma, before you walk in your sleep.

    March 3, 2012 at 5:31 am | Report abuse |
  9. Syrian Domination

    Syria and other middle-eastern nations have the lowest HIV rates on earth. Nefore the US conquered Afghanistan, AIDS was almost never heard of there. How is it that these foreign nation's governments and medical establishments have a better handle on AIDS than we do?

    March 3, 2012 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Doobie Wah

      Simple.
      They kill you and bury the evidence.
      No AIDS.

      March 3, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. Rags

    That was reported days ago.

    March 3, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  11. jim

    Do we ever look at what we're doing before plunging into it? We helped Afghanistan drive out the Russians, and look what it got us. Let's, just once, watch a war without jumping into it with both feet!

    March 3, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Total2199

      too late buddy, now it is our turn to have moment of truth....

      March 3, 2012 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • stateschool

      If you read the article, you would have sen this toward the end: "...last week, representatives of other international powers, including the United States, met in Tunisia for a Friends of Syria meeting to begin working on ways to stop the violence, devise a political solution and deliver aid....The Friends of Syria meeting stressed the importance of the political opposition movement, including the Syrian National Council, but the group didn't refer to armed conflict as a solution..." This is called "testing the waters" and is the polar opposite of jumping in with both feet.

      March 3, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. jim

    You need to get a grip on reality! Take your prozac and go back to bed!

    March 3, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Kiljoy616

      Nice, there seems to be a lot of people needing a maximum doze just to cope.

      March 6, 2012 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  13. stateschool

    Why is it that people who begin and end their posts with statements like "this is the pure truth" are always batpoo crazy?

    March 3, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • DeeNYC

      batpoo aka guano is very helpful to society and has many uses. Don't insult it.

      March 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Total2199

    Expect another Ruanda if West arms and supports those Al Qaeda "activists"

    March 3, 2012 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • heart card

      you are killing other people who defenless without arm. you and your illegal government using arm of mass destruction like tank missile etc stop crying for support criminal like assad regime.

      March 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. AlawiteGeneral

    MuHaHaHaHa ,,,, Even Altaïr ibn La'Ahad Cant Save you ohh SYrians,.....

    You are truly doomed.....

    March 3, 2012 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
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