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. Eric459

    You address the immediate problems first, I would prefer no troops on the ground just air support like in Libya it went fast and easy

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

      The difference is twofold. First, Assad's army is much more capable on the ground than Ghadafi's was. Second, Russia would never stand aside while the US tried to establish a no-fly zone. Things would escalate very quickly.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • yeah

      fast and easy with thousands of dead and the country in ruins. Obama's hands are just as bloodied as Bush's now.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sharp

    Who is obscuring developments Mr Lavrov?

    February 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Alex

    I wish I cared, but I really don't.

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

      Don't worry, they don't even care if you exist.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      So you take the time and effort not only to read the article but comment on it as well because you don't care?

      February 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. UandIsharing

    To the Syrian people:
    You must organize. Get whatever you have to fight with. Don't wait for the world to act. Burn down the schools, Hospitals and High rises that the snipers are using. Take the children out of the fighting zone if you can. It's war. And, if you’re going to die go down fighting. Good Luck!

    February 7, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Eric459

    All I gotta say so far on this 1 is all the blood is on China and Russia's hands

    February 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Steve

    LOL – and still the United States Ambassador thinks what she says really matters – leave the people fight for their own freedom – it will mean a LOT more to them than if some patsy nation thinks they are helping them!

    February 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Heat2Hot

    No empathy here! I sat back and watched these people burn the American flag, spit on it and chant death to America. It takes a lot of nerve to wish death upon a country one day then turn around and ask for help the next. I have never forgotten this and don't you either! Syrians referred to us as the enemy and our role in this should be to make sure they never forget it.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      Exactly. Syrians have some balls asking the West for help. Ask Allah for help. Don't hold your breath. Let the Arabs clean up their own messes. They've got the money.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Gh

    Fight them Assad. Fight the collaborators! Do not ever give up your country's sovereignty to the US and Qatar.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. j Carly

    Susan Rice is useless..............Syrians are dying and she's blabbing that Assad's days are numbered......but they keep dying while she does nothing but blab......who needs her?.......

    February 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shannon

      What could she do?

      February 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      j Carly – if you don't like it, go over there and fight side by side with the Syrians yourself. If you're not that brave – then keep your mouth shut. Tired of seeing my money spent helping people overseas who hate us and our soldiers die protecting Muslims who burn our flag. This veteran says keep our boys home.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mullah dadulah

    cia's bloody business is at work again.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. nero

    Assad and father(thank god he's dead) are thugs. They have profiteered more than anyone else in the region, from arm smuggling and trading. The chinese and Russians view his imminent departure as loosing their best customer. His people
    have suffered enough. Screw the reds I say. Let's help those people now. Let's not forget the Brits and French that ruled the area for a long time and still have bases there(Cyprus). I don't hear anyone mentioning the Turks and the mess in Cyprus. They are not as good allies as the pentagon wants you to think they are.Hang Assad Now.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. kommy

    There is no slaughter in Syria, the government is fighting the terrorists, and the country who sponsor terrorists withdrawing their ambassadors.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Truthteller

      Right because the U.S and other countries have a HUGE vestment in what happens to Syria, we stand to gain billions of dollars if the country falls. Russia and China only care about the people of Syria and have no monetary interest in seeing Assad stay in power.

      Now read the statement I just made, think about it logically for .4 seconds, pull your head from your rear and take a breath of fresh air. See how crazy your comment was?

      The fact is, Russia and China both have monetary investments in Syria that are considerable. They understand that toppling the regime will turn that investment into a significant loss. I'm sure they feel for the people of Syria but its clear by the latest veto's they care about the lining in their pockets more.

      The USA isn't perfect, but our conscience is clear as far as Syria.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Shannon

    This is ridiculous and it got to stop! Russia and China is too greedy to even try to help stop this violence! ARGH! Makes me sick to my stomach!

    February 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Karen

    To all the Syrian people, you are in our hearts and in our prayers. We are with you.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. josh rogen

    I think the difference here is that the other governments were pro western and in the case of Libya had renounced terrorism against western interest. Syria on the other hand is as anti-western and pro-terrorist as they come. so any movement that might change that worries anti-western nations. imperialist intervention also doesn't set well with some people.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
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