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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/acarvin/status/166698998198059010%5D

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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/AmbassadorRice/status/166668814807871489%5D

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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/leila_na/status/166923215246082050%5D

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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/StateDept/status/166898538410803200%5D

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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/YousefMunayyer/status/165875252029702144%5D

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. Dana

    Why don't they just stay home? What do they think they will accomplish by rioting, looting, burning, and firing on the military? This is nothing more than a coup attempt trying to suck in the rest of the world to do it for the rebels. I say people go home keep your kids out of the fight instead of using them as shields and maybe change can be made and America, francie and gay England stay out of the coup.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmericanSam

      You're insane. Stay home? Don't show any courage? You'd have been a Tory.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • soul2squeez

      yeah stay home so you can be bombed in your house, or soldiers and barge in and slaughter you family.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Soul<<< If your seen shooting , looting, burning, etc and your seen running into a house and it may be barricaded, expect it to be stormed or bombed. AmericanSam<<< using children as shields is not my idea as courage, maybe it's tradition in your family and race but not in mine.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      Dana: are you there? Then how do you know that the Syrian army is only bombarding houses where 'looters' have hidden in?

      Yeah, that is right. You don't.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bravin

      Try and find someone who can tell us if your brain smells like cheese.....cause something's gone bad.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      Speaking of what I know as an American is absolutely nothing. I don't even know if there is a real assault on Homs. For all I know the whole thing could have been shot in Bollywood. I hope that my government wouldn't act on fake things, but to be honest how would I know anything? I'm sure not going to fly over to Syria to check it out for myself.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      scarphase to simple truth is I DON'T CARE. Not one conflict helped anyone since Vietnam, not the people, not the country not us, and not the region. Every conflict we get into drags on and on costing us Lives of our soldiers, with the same outcome nothing changed and they still hate AMERICA.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. John

    Perhaps the USA should loan a few cruise missiles and a few dozen drones to the Syrian rebels. I'm sure they'd know where to point them.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      Sure. Then Russia sends more weapons to Assad, we send more weapons to the rebels, and we have a complete bloodbath with hundereds of thousands dead instead of thousands.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      Sadly that is all America can offer these rebels. Death. Why do they keep asking for our help is my question? Our guns don't shoot sunshine and blue skies. Our solutions rarely work.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. 4F

    This blood in the streets terminology should do the trick. No one has done anything to stop the slaughter in Syria. Over 7,000 dead, over 500 of them children. But now the media has really ratcheted up the rhetoric. Blood in the streets. Wow! This will surely at long last get the international community fired up. They will get fired up just like they did when they looked on while millions of Jews were killed years ago. Most humans are down right cowards including our president. Unless people are murdered in our backyard no big deal.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      Cowardice is refusing to engage in action out of fear. Foolishness is engaging in an action in which you know will fail. Complete disregard for humanity is launching a military strike on a country which is allied with two of the largest nations of the world, who have made it very known that are against you doing so.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mile

    this feels like a dream people dieing most children what is wrong with this world this regime has to stop and punish the gov and give the death penalty to the president if someone is caught steerling a piece of gum they would get arested and do time killing is ok??????????? whats wrong hereee i have family thereee that i cant even speek toooo its like there in jaill no way outt they need help who cares about russia and china both countrys care about money we need to go in and attack another thing about civil war the alawis r 10%%%%%5 of that country they would be wiped out less then a week those murderers i guess its in gods hands and the syrian people VICTORY IS NEAR WITH NO HELP

    February 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Den

    United states should stay out of this fight. They wanted to make a change it needs to come from them.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. soul2squeez

    sorry syria, 10 years ago maybe, but right now world war 3 is not an option. Unfortunately you will need to rise up and overthrow your government on your own. Unite and be brave, and may your God and you faith keep you strong. You should ask the Insurgent from Iraq and Aghganistan to help you with gurilla warfare tactics. IEDs etc, those seem to work fine. I think as this goes on more and more of those syrian soldiers will defect, But you need a total uprising.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bobby

    hey syria,i remember the usa flag burning ,and stomping our flag,now u want our HELP, ask your buddies russia china, lol lol lol the tide has turned, now suffer

    February 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AmericanSam

    Maybe we should help them. If a) we're supposed to be the good guys and b) we have the strongest military in the world, then what is keeping us from helping them? This is no Iraq. Saddam was a jerk, but this sort of bloodshed was not happening before we came in. Perhaps Syria may not have as much oil as we do, but people are people and children are children and if there was ever a time in the past decade that we needed to help people, it's now.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • soul2squeez

      Sadaam was responsible for the deaths of thousands in Iraq. He just didnt have 2 super powers to back him. We will not go to Syria because that means WW3, and we dont need that in our life. Where are their muslim brothers now. If there should be a jihad it needs to be on syria. The arab countries need to form a coalition and go in their and help their own people.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • funny

      You are such a tool. Saddam has killed tens of thousands of his citizens, it was much much worse than what you see here. Doesn't justify the hundreds of thousands killed by the NATO war in Afghanistan though.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. nyuk

    Just a couple B-52 payloads of NATO bombs on Assad's head would do the trick. Libya, Round 2, anyone?

    February 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mile

    with what weapons they need atleast a no fly zone for them to beat the regime u cant beat a tank with an ak47 atleast natoo

    February 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Scott

    Why do we sit and do nothing? Why do we never learn from the genocides? Are we blind to the images coming out of Homs? A government is killing its people.
    Forget China and Russia, they are not dying. The people of Syria need protection from its own government. This is a Saddam replay, slaughtering the people.
    Where is the Arab League and their forces and air power? Solving world matters cannot continue to fall to the western nations but if that is what it takes then so be it. I say go in.
    Scott – Australia

    February 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • yeah

      Australia is welcome to go over there and wage a war on Assad. With you on the front line.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert Emmett Zimmer

      I agree with you, Scott. Just ignore yeah's snide, obnoxious remarks.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MoBombsYou

    So when they call themselves the brave men of the Free Syrian Army and claim to occupie Homs it's OK but when the other side goes in to wipe them out and remove the fear they put into those who oppose them, it deserves all this hoopla?

    February 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mile

    this crooked govt is whats messing the world up its all about money money moneyyyyyyyyyyy they see a dead body in the street who cares theyl prob check the pockets to see if they have money i cant even picture whats goin on over there bombshed people r people we are all humans in the end why cut a childs life early its sad gota leave it up to god i guess

    February 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. mile

    crooked govt is whats messing the world up its all about money money moneyyyyyyyyyyy they see a dead body in the street who cares theyl prob check the pockets to see if they have money i cant even picture whats goin on over there bombshed people r people we are all humans in the end why cut a childs life early its sad gota leave it up to god i guess

    February 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Robert Emmett Zimmer

    It is a very sad situation in Syria. It is clear that the only way that al-Assad and his thugs will be deposed and stop the bloodshed will be to kill them off. It is sad, yet true. I might be dovish, but I understand that military intervention in the name of avoiding innocents being massacred is sometimes necessary. This is one of those times. I think that U.S. and international cooperation would be able to defeat cowardly Syrian forces with overwhelming force. The Russian and Chinese governments are cowardly and accomplices to al-Assad's brutality. I am not advocating nation-building (the U.S. and other nations have proven not to be very effective in doing that and at great costs). What I am advocating is the imprisonment and the killing (if necessary) of those who are killing innocent men, women, and children. What I am advocating is limited and attainable.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
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