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. rob lloyd

    Replying to DavidR: The English appear to have been right.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Homer

    What a great opportunity for Israel to reach out to the people of the region by going in and taking out Assad. It would also make a very bold statement to Iran. Two birds with one stone.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • sbp

      Yeah, the Arabs in the region would be SOOOOOO appreciative. Please!

      February 7, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. themo

    I hope Russia is satisfied now with all this blood on their hands! They had a chance to help the Syrian people, but they
    were just to envolved in selling armed weapons to the Syrian Govt. I hope they all rot in hell!

    February 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Xchange

      Russia and China only have one agenda and that is to promote themselves regardless what happens to other countries. Curious how much foreign aid they provide.

      February 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Shannon

    This is awful!! Hope the violence will end soon.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Xchange

    Appears the WWII Nazis relocated to Syria and are thriving on the destruction.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. juliet

    Bob i dont understand where you got the whole Dr. Pepper thing from but okay?

    February 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. sjdsh

    A vital battle is going on to rid Homs of the Blackwater clones & Alqaeda operatives! Homs is being cleaned up. Tommorrow news will be interesting! Hurray!!

    February 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • juliet

      you sound stupid why are you excited about this kind of stuff are you some kind of crazy Phsyco who think of this pleasureably

      February 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lesly

    hey ppls wat u doin ,?and were did you get the DR. Pepper from BOB?

    February 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. juliet

    wow why are you so excited about the news there is nothing special about how people are scared to leave there house cuz people are idiots...

    February 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. juliet

    wats up lesly how you doin?

    February 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ragh

    I am wondering why Saudi Arabia and other oil rich Sunni muslim countries not helping their fellow Sunni muslims in Syria with arms, money, etc. to uproot Assad? Why west should fight their wars. US has already done a lot in blood and treasure in Iraq and to a large extent in Libya. They should sort out their dictators themselves. As the options in those countries are dictators, army or Islamists because their society itself is like that. In order to transform into a modern country, religion has to take back seat and become private affair and develop tolerance for other religions and start to develop open thinking and a tolerance and security in their society to attract investment. No other country can do that. Russia and China just need to sell their arms in exchange for oil and they would want to continue with that like US wants to continue with Saudi Arabia despite that country is the most repressed country in the world and produces maximum Islamic terrorists and funds all Islamic terrorism.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ronen

    Such naiveness in the west. Asad and his men are murderers, but be assured, the moment the Sunni rebels take control of Syria, Millions of men, women and children of the Alawite ruling minotiry will be ethnically cleansed in horrible ways. There is no way to stop the fighting now as both sides know they fight for their lives and that the loser's ethnic group will be cleansed from existence without regard to as much as a baby's life.

    That's what happens when a culture that's incompatible with the concept of "country" gets a country but is really made of different ethnic groups hostile to each other that have blood fueds that go on for centuries.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. lesly

    well hey there juliet:)♥jajajaja LOL jajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajaLOLjajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajajaj

    February 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ken

    I'm an American Syrian and I think we have done enough in the world. Time to stop policing the world, let them worry about it. The Arabs do nothing because they know we will take care of it for them, like we always do. American money for Americans, stop the world Police.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • filids

      How can you site by and watch genocide, is not what you say the same Germany said before WWII? Invading for corporate interests is one thing. But to stand by and watch a government commit such slaughter, the ultimate in selfeshness. When in your mind is genocide acceptable?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. juliet

    haha!.....Lesly you are so wierd its a good thing i love you:)

    February 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
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