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. rebiii

    Why was the term "slaughter" not used in headlines for the actions of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    February 7, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Like

      February 7, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fredflintstone

      Maybe you need to understand the Geneva Convention rules of war...........

      February 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Choco monster

      No, it wasn't. I hate China for allowing this. I hate CHina for trying to spin this as some kind of US Iraq operation. I hate China and so does the world.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • doubler

      Because U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan don't deliberately target civilians.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark G.

      Just so you know. There is a difference beween wanton slaughter and collateral damage.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matty13

      Americans were NOT slaughter civilians like this. You.....you wish they were, you.....you wish the Americans slaughtered like this..........but they didn't.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • In DC

      Because we were not targeting civilians, women, children, babies, etc. Do you see the difference now?

      February 7, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seriously

      I could bash this guy and point out how weak and insulting his statment is, but I wont. I'm just going to say that ignorance is a dangerous thing, stay in school kids.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • rad666

      Was the world exposed to these type of photos of children when Iraq was invaded by NATO/America?

      February 7, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tatore

      Do a wiki on assad

      February 7, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • T. Lee

      Who do you think you are deceiving with the "our" troops!

      So what the going rate in RMB, Bials, etc., for putting up this fake anti-US comment as if you are a "we" !

      February 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samuel

      Double standard, that's why

      February 7, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. r-hope

    I skiped through the article....too painful to read word for word. Too gruesome. I didn't open the videos showing children. I could not bear to watch. That this is happening in 2012 is unthinkable. We (including me) should all be very very ashamed to let this go on unabated.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      I refuse to feel ashamed for something I am powerless to control. If anything is to be blamed, it is the laws of nature themselves which give man the freedom to do such horrible acts to one another.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob Hamilton

    How can everyone stand by as Assad is killing innocent civilians? It is time for someone, NATO, China, Russia, US, Batman, ANYONE! to step in here.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • ParaSalin

      Well if Nato and the US go over there and "help out", once again people will hate on the US for policing the world and interfering with other countries affairs. When in reality we are the only ones who (try to)do the right thing when other countries look out for their own interests and sit back and monday morning quarterback. IMHO, don't wait for the government or other countries to come save you, buy a flipping gun and save yourself.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • WKnox

      PalinSara,

      are you saying the U.S. govt doesn't look out for its own interest when interfering in other countries affairs? Stop whatever you are drinking now and came out of your cave. How many times did the U.S. block U.N. Security Council resolutions when its ally was criticized no matter what? Or went to war to protect the country because it has oil but didn't do anything if country lacked oil or natural resources ?

      February 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      @WKnox Knowing this, why would anyone ask for our help? Of course we're going to want our cut of the profits. The US isn't God and we're not "good". We are a country looking out for its own self-interests like everyone else in the world. Did everyone get the idea that the US was willing to destroy itself in order to bring freedom to their door? I'd rather go with a, if you want freedom, immigrate to the US legally.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. EK

    how dare you show such horrible pictures of children either killed or injured. Shame on you CNN.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Curt

      You'd rather believe that your life is so great and live in your own illusions watching NFL and cheering for Madonna

      February 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      This needs to be shown so people realize what's going on over there. If you're too sensitive to watch it on your computer screen, imagine what it's like for the people seeing it first-hand.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • anandamide

      Yeah, CNN is the appropriate source of your outrage !! "How dare you hurt all those children, CNN?"

      February 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • NG

      Why wouldn't they show pictures of the children? People need to know what is going on in Syria. They're not having a tea party or anything, people are getting killed. If you don't want to see those pictures then don't but either way you would have seen something like this in the future. Also you have to be aware that children are also being killed and bombed, this is the world we are living in. A world where there is massive death instead of peace.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Billie

    It has been this way since the beginning of time and will continue until the end of our time. No amount of troops, rockets, bombs or on ground troops are going to deter this type of violence. Look at IRAQ, soon as US starting pulling troops, the bombings and killings started again. They prefer to live this way, so let them!!!!!!! Let them kill each other, we need to take care of the US!!!!!! as there is lots of terrorism right here on our home soil.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. chrissy

    Sad state of affairs when people are more concerned with same s/e/x marriage than the brutal killings in syria! Shame on us as humans and big shame on russia and china!

    February 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Scottyholden

    I think Ousting Syrian power is far more justified than what they did in Libya, which ws a joke.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. izandro

    This really brings it home that middle east culture looks upon the common man as nothing more than cheap labor. Where are all these powerful mullahs, and others? Oh yeah, russia and china: you totally suck.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Fredflintstone

    On the road to Islam even the trees die.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Matty13

    They ask for our help. They ask for the help of the west. Then when the west comes to help, they turn on them. They call them conqueors and crusaders. They set ied for them. You have created your own environment Syria, if the west comes they will bring a new environment, a new culture with them. It cannot remain the same as before. If you want the west to come, then you must expect the west to bring their democracy with them. That or nothing.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kyle

    Our government is beating the drums of war yet again. Fool me once, shame on you. Feel me twice, shame on me. Let's take care of our problems at home before we invade any more sovereign countries. We aren't Nazi Germany.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • ParaSalin

      actually if you read a history book, going in and stopping what looks to be a genocide of innocent Syrian civilians would be the complete opposite of nazi germany.

      February 7, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      Yes except Nazi German was killing people based on ethnicity while simultaneously invading nations we had long standing relationships with. Also Russian and China were on our side, which is the real key here.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dokken

    Assad will go down in recent history as one of the most murderous monsters! Shame on him killing his OWN people in cold blood!

    February 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jason

    I WILL BE OUTRAGED IF WE SPEND $1 to help these enemies. They burn our fkn flag and now some of you want to help? what is wrong w/. you? We've already learned what happens to us. We help and than get blamed for everything and than we have to worry about them blowing us up. NO WAY!

    February 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. izandro

    What was Asma wearing?

    February 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jimbo

    More Propaganda getting our brains ready for another war, the US is already talking about supplying weapons to the civilians fighting against the Dictator.
    Let them resolve their own problems, do not feed the hate towards our country.!

    February 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • GV133

      we will get more hate if we dont do something about the problem. If we let people be killed because of Russia and China's selfish reason we will raise more hate. Not only should we help, but also make a new resolution in the U.N that everyone can agree with, so we can solve the problem in syria.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
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