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. skarphace

    The AL needs to do the initial work here and so far they have failed. During the Libyan escalation, the AL called upon the UN to act, and they did, just in the nick of time to avoid a situation like the one we have now in Syria.

    Unfortunately, the AL have decided not to do so in this case. Hopefully, they will soon. Until the AL stands up as a group and requests UN action, the Russians and Chinese will not agree to any type of intervention.

    The ball is in your court, AL. Take the friggin shot, for Syria's sake!

    February 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bubba

    YOU SURE THOSE ARENT PICTURES OF THE OAKLAND PROTESTS??

    February 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      Hmmmm. Well, let's see. How many were killed during the Oakland protests?

      Oh, that's right. NONE!!

      February 7, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JEN

    THE UN NEED TO COME IN AND FLUSH THE THE IDIOT PRESIDENT. UNITED NATION ARE WASTING TO MUCH TIME TO SAVE THESE INNOCENT PEOPLE. IT TIME TO ELECT NEW UNITED NATION PERSON IN CHARGE. HE OE SHE IS NOT DOING THEIR JOB QUICKLY. THEY ARE MOVE TOO SLOW TO SAVE THESE PEOPLE

    February 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      Not going to happen. It needs to be the EU with NATO backing or nobody. Russia and China will make sure it is not the UN. This is the beginning of the end of the UN.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. citizen

    Why is Muslim blood more important than the blood of Cubans being shed in the streets of Cuba?

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

      I am sorry. Where did you read that Muslims were more important than Cubans? I have not heard that claim.

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

      Is the president in Cuba gunning the citizens with Tanks? I don't think so!!! that is the difference. Reaction is usually proportional to the crime

      February 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mile

    hey citenzen people r slaughter each other in streets of cuba gangs drugssss ok buddy theres a difference

    February 7, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ALLAMERICAN

    Why we are seeing such horrific images all of a sudden. I have no doubt the situation is worse and perhaps no different than other regions where there is oppression.

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

      because we have to have this war, dammit! *stomp stomp stomp with right foot*

      February 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Muhammad

      There is not going to be a war. The Syrian army is so extended it wouldn't be able to fight no one other than the unarmed men of Syria. I would like to see Turkey and the Arabs push into Syria to protect the people, all what's needed from the west is political (UN) support.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ttcat

    If Syrian people only took to the street and protest without being armed, I don't think Assad was so stupid to open fire. He has many other ways to disperse protesters, water canon, rubber bullets. User your common senses and read from different sources. This is a civil war, not dictators killing civilians ! Both sides have weapons. The thing that is tragic is that: one side has war planes and missiles and the other side has only AK47.

    As for the word "slaughter", more than 170,000 Iraqi civilians were killed as collateral damage. I agree American soldiers didn't intend to do these in most of these cases. But you need to know that Iraqis didn't choose the war. US led armies invaded Iraq. The one who started the war should be responsible for the collateral damage.

    Of course you didn't see much of the images of the collateral damage in Iraq. Because the media dared not to shake the legitimacy of the war. Again, read from different sources.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. klefn

    "As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the
    senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still
    on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was
    being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there
    were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria,
    Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan." General Wesley Clark, 2006.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      I guess they are a bit behind on schedule then, huh?

      February 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. KALOWG

    I'm sorry but I just cannot bring myself to care about what is going on over there. It has been proven time and again, especially with the "Arab Spring" that they may wish to throw out the dictator, only to do the following...

    1. Bring in a new dictator.
    2. Blame the west for all their problems.
    3. Start some trouble with Israel.
    4. IF they were provided arms to help in their uprising, they will just in turn use those arms against us.

    I'm sorry, but you dug your grave. Now lay in it.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      I, on the other hand, can't help but care. They are human beings afterall, regardless of what country they were born in, what race they are, and what religion they follow.

      Hopefully, I never get to the point where I don't care about my fellow human being.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • llwm

      I tend to agree with the OP...for years they have done everything possible to kill americans, Isrealies and anyone else who are not muslims...I could frankly care less about these people. Amazing how the world wants us to stay out of the business nations until trouble starts then the first thing they scream is where are the americans...we need american support...All I can say is too bad, I dont care if they kill every syrian in the country. I have always said we should stay out of the middle east because in due time they will solve the problems for us by killing each other off.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • ldr

      thats so ignorant. the syrian people did not ask for this, nor did they ask for al assad or his father. you can only kill people for so long before they eventually fight back. it's easy for you to talk when you live in a country that gives you freedom. for the syrian people, asking for freedom is like asking for a death sentence. maybe you should brush up on your middle eastern history before you decide who to give sympathy for.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • ldr

      hey llwm, heard of a country called palestine? oh, no? look it up on a map... oh wait...

      and you expect those in the middle east to be sympathetic to israel while their own get killed on a daily basis. innocent human beings on BOTH sides are being killed. its unfortunate that you're pointing blame and claim to not care about the death of the innocent. maybe you should be a proponent of a peaceful resolution in the middle east rather than not caring.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. us1776

    al-Assad and all members of the al-Assad Syrian military need to be hanged for all the genocide that they have committed against the Syrian people.

    .

    February 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. big al

    Rice should resign along with osama obama

    February 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      So says big all the bigot.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      So says big al the bigot.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. soul2squeez

    I have mixed emotions, you know, my heart goes out to these people as humans, but then I think back on my time in Iraq and I still have some hatred for the people of the middle east. They chant that they hate the USA, christians, the West and they burn our flags. Then they get a brutal dictator and they cry for help. Then we go in, oust the dictator and they call us invaders. So I'm torn as a human i want to reach out to these peole and save them but at the same time I hate them and I know that once we liberate them they will turn their backs on us. Our civil war claimed over a million lives, thats part of the deal. I think they are on their own.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      First and foremost, it needs to be the AL that takes the initial step. This is why the Libyan conflict was successful, and why the chance of Libyans blaming and hating the US is much less than if we went in without the AL asking that we did so.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Pekpek69

    Let's go in and free the Syrian people. Yes some may even hate us or even call us invaders but that is just temporary. Time will tell and they will realized that we have removed a brutal dictator regime. Might as well have a sniper shoot the president and all of his guards...hahaha...

    February 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      And if the US 'goes in' on one side, and Russia goes in on the side of Assad, then what? A much larger blood bath and a result much like that which created al Qaeda, that is what.

      Not exactly win-win.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rational Minds Prevail

    Before I say my piece, I wish to give my condolences to the innocent civilians that are suffering from the attacks in Syria. With that said, I must stress the point that the US should not be involved in the resolution of this conflict.

    The middle east has been unstable for centuries. There is no reason the US should continue its role as policeman to every world problem. This coverage feels just like coverage predating wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. News agencies get Americans' emotions stirred up with pictures of violence and other injustices, then goads us into another war.

    Ask yourself how we benefited from going to war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Has anything truly changed? No. But, we sank billions, if not trillions of dollars there anyways. That is money that could have been invested in our own infrastructure, building new roads, better schools, etc. Or maybe we could of put that trillion towards our national deficit. The bottomline is it was spent abroad as opposed to benefiting the American people (This is our money folks, lets use it on us.) This is money we can't even afford to spend. How many of you out there are living paycheck to paycheck with maxxed credit cards? How do you think our deficit is any different (we are paying interest)? Instead we blow our wad on ungrateful people half the world away, who don't appreciate a lick of what we give to support them.

    Its time to rebuild the United States to its former glory, not siphon away much needed funds to babysit other countries. This is Syria's problem, let the Syrian's handle their own affairs.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      Agreed. Let the Syrians handle their own affairs. Spend USA $$ in the USA.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Malik

    If the protesters marched peacefully without guns, Al-Assad would not order their killings. There would be zero fatality. Where are your brains, people.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      How do you konw this? When Libyans marched peacefully, what happened? Ghadafi's forces gunned them down, that is what. How do you know none of Assad's forces fired upon unarmed protesters? How have children died if the Syrian forces were only firing on armed insurgents?

      You are making a logical leap that has no factual basis.

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