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. SANAA

    WHAT BUSINESS HAS THE US IN SYRIA, GET OUT OF THE WHOLE MIDDLE EAST, DID NOT YOU AMERICAN CAUSE ENOUGH SUFFERING AND DESTRUCTION TO THIS AREA, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE FOR GOD SAKE LEAVE THE MIDDLE EAST ALONE

    February 7, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarphace

      Excuse me, but is the US in Syria? What reality are you living in? They are suffering without the US not because of the US. Wake up and pay attention a bit more.

      You sound like a pro-Assad propagandist to me. That would make you an accomplice to murder.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gibran Riaz

      Shut up, Bashar al-Assad. As the American Ambassador said, "your days are numbered!"

      February 7, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      You need to take a look at some of the footage coming out of Syria. Civilians are being killed in mass.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      Sanaa,

      Your comment is insane. You need to go back to the middle east yourself. I hope we don't go into Syria because of people like you. Just like in Iraq, after we get rid of one cruel dictator, the people will go back to hating the US, the "great satan" Anyone who can't see that the middle east, and the lunatic violence from all sides, is the arm pit of the earth, is blind – you belong there, go back or stay, but shut up and do something.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Alan

    The american media is twisting this to unbeleivable levels. If US is to clear the path for an Iranian attack, it must get rid of Syria's Assad. Where is the proof that Assad is killing his own people? Who are these transitional folk who dare to call themselves the new govt-in-waiting? Have we not just seen this scenario in Libya? Did we learn nothing? US is looking for some sort of legitimacy to eliminate Assad. Are Libyans now better off?

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

      I guess Alan you could look at the footabe of the Syrian embassy being taken over in Tunisia or Egypt by the opposition.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Nothing is twisted other than your mind, and that is will answer all you questions,now tell us how much Libyans would be better off in Qazafi killed a million of his people

      February 7, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mitchell

    omg!! why are we not helping these people, if this was going on in the U.S it wouldn't last a day. I am a proud American, but if America don't help these people this country is Crap, we as Americans need to make or government help these people, it go's against everything we stand for if we don't.

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

      actually, in a way it is, the United States is experience on average 15,000 homicides a year, not to mention the robbery statistics, missing persons, vehicular homicide etc. etc feel free to visit the FBI web site for more detail statistics. But , I guess were only concerned in meddling in other countries business then fixing our own

      February 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Pierce

      Mitchell – hop on a plane and fight side by side with the Syrians, then. Nobody is stopping you.
      Until you're brave enough to do so, S T F U!!!
      We have enough problems here to fix. Tired of seeing my money go to foreign aid to countries that hate us.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jon

    So fun fact for all of you people: Assad saw you coming. Take a look at this:
    haaretz (dot) com/print-edition/news/bashar-assad-emails-leaked-tips-for-abc-interview-revealed-1.411445

    A press attache advised Assad back in December that [the] "American Psyche can be easily manipulated... The Americans now believe that their government has failed two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are asking their government to stop interfering in other countries businesses and sovereignty and to start taking care of the American internal issues."

    Saw you lot coming, didn't they?

    February 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. William

    You would think that we could find out what building Assad was in, and then fly over and drop a surprise on him.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ZZ

    Whenever CNN, Fox and satellites media start a propaganda, Hillary is next to make it official, to make the problem out of nothing. Then Russians needs to go and resolve the problem.
    I will ask CNN to show the photos from all the children killed and wounded by US forces and bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libiya.
    This is horrible propaganda. Just to remind you, CNN, that there is a lot of other media reporting quite the opposite of whatever you do. You are extreme weapon in the hands of the US military machine.
    Only stupid and brainwashed americans will buy your propaganda stories about selling the democracy.
    In fact democracy doesn't exist in US, why don't you listen to milions of protesters of OWS.
    There are definetely more protesters in US then in Syria.
    You are pathetic liars.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Yes Syrian state run media is telling the opposite, all other media sources are telling otherwise, because more than one hundred thousand video out of Syria showing Ass-ed military, secret police killing children, women, men are not enough for any sane person to believe. and wait the massacre was live on Aljazeera, Alarabia, BBC, France 24 yesterday and today, nvermind why bother with fact when I can make my own

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

      SAM888 you are one of the millions brainwashed by CNN...
      History repeats itself.

      Did you ever been outside US ? and Why not ?
      The only reason CNN is showing photos of injured or killed kids is because of oil and closeness of Iran (which is next stage).
      WHERE ARE THE PHOTOS OF KILLED CHILDREN BY US BOMBS all over middle east ????

      February 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      I will assume for now that you are not paid by Ass-ad to post comments here, and I will answer your question:

      1- I lived in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, USA, Jordan

      2- They have a moral obligation to show such photos to the whole world, otherwise Ass-ad will repeat his father massacre in the 80s where 40,000 have been killed.

      3- Tow wrongs do not make a right

      February 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. oilmann

    Another shining Example of Barrys Failed Leadership. Chicom & Russia have told the USA to go away... Sad times in America.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mitchell

    from the U.S : Syria we are coming, we will bring food,medical help,and most of all BiG Fn Gun to kill that Sick S.O.B that thinks he's untouchable , wait tell we drop a smart Bomb on your head Assad!! say good bye your going to end up just like Muammar Gaddafi, you sick Fracker ( :

    February 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. AB

    I wonder how much longer is going to take the Syrians (Government and/or people) to start blaming Israel for what is happening... for years the Syrians supported this animal, for years Israel warned the world the danger that he represented. Now that the government is killing its own people, I wonder if they finally realized that there are many, many worst things in the world other than Israel. Finally a message to the Syrian people: The devil (Israel) that for decades the government systematically thought you to believe was next door, voila… it’s NOT, it’s inside. More Syrians have been killed by the Syrian government in these past couple of months than in half a dozen wars with Israel in more than 6 decades. Hopefully one day the Arabs and Muslims will understand that the source of many of their problems as Nations and societies is not Israel but someone much closer to them.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Ass-ad is a criminal, Israel is the master of criminals

      February 7, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bill

    We need to stay out of Syria and let them and their neighbors solve this problem. WE (Americans) have wasted far to many dollars and lives in an area that hates us. The killing in the middle east has been going on for the last 1400 years and it will probably be going on for the next 1400 years if we don't all blow ourselves up first. Syria has nothing that we need. Let them fight it out.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      You have answered you question smart one
      Q: "The killing in the middle east has been going on for the last 1400 years"?
      A: WE (Americans) have wasted far to many dollars and lives in an area

      Who wasted his money to support the killing in the ME

      February 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Mubarak was never supported to oppress his people
      Saudi King was never supported to oppress his people
      Jordanian king .............
      Algerian
      Tunisian
      Yemen
      Eremite
      Qatar
      Oman
      Bahrain
      ...
      ...

      February 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mitchell

    to bad bill, that isn't the case, when women and babies are dieing, put your self in the shoes of a father carrying his dead kid down the street trying to find help to save his dead son. we cant and will not let this go on much longer. its not human to stand by and watch this sick government do these things.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      An 8 moths old baby was taken by Ass-ad thugs a month ago from her mother house tortured and returned dead to her parents as to send a message to Syrians, if you demonstrate this what will happen to your sons and daughters

      February 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MoBombsYou

    Rice: Assad's days are numbered... Jan 2011
    Rice: Assad's days are numbered... May 2011
    Rice: Assad's days are numbered... Sep 2011
    Rice: Assad's days are numbered... Feb 2012
    Rice: Assad's days are numbered... ????

    February 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jon

    We need to send in elite Marines to eradicate Bashar al-Assad.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mitchell

    Jon, i agree with you 100% that man needs to be taking out,

    February 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bill

    If folks are really concerned I believe the best solution is the boycott of Chinese and Russian products. If such an idea would go viral russia and china would support the un resolution and maybe, just maybe, the Syrian regime would finally realize it's time to quit. There will be no end to this until Syria loses the backing of Russia and china.

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

      Yeah right. Boycott Chinese products means the end of America as we know it (imagine a bankrupt Walmart).

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

      i hear you. It is a far fetched idea. Too much sacrifice for most of us Americans

      February 7, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
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