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. Ed Sr of Dallas Tx

    Susan Rice does not have the right to make threats. Conditions are worse than bad in Syria but for this lady to address ANY world leader in this fashion is obnoxious and uncalled for. Hillary did the same thing in Libya. Representatives of the United States are NOT Gods and do not have the right to make God fearing remarks. We do not need to continue to get involved in the problems of other countries. Let those countries clean their own laundry without our interference. Interference like this by Susan Rice is exactly what cause 911 in our country. Put a rag in her mouth Barack!

    February 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samuel

      Amen brother

      February 7, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      You are right, but the only problem Ass-ad is not a world leader, his is a world criminal and child killer

      February 7, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samuel

      @sam... I heard that the opposition are killing innocent civilians so to blame the government for it, have you ever heard of black flag operations,

      February 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Samuel

    First of all I condemn the killing of all innocents civilians and I emphasize "civilians"; I agree that the Syrian government is not democratic and needs a lot of reform, but we should not forget that the opposition groups are not innocents at all, they are armed to their teeth, very well funded and supported by most of the corrupt arab countries (go figure..). The conflict in syria is selectively blown out of proportion by the controlled media (for a purpose); Syria is not the only country that have grave issues in the ME, look for example at Bahrain, the people are holding out daily peaceful demonstrations against the oppressive ruling regime as well, but they are brutally terrorized and killed. We don't hear about that in the news, do we? Unfortunately, We live in a double standard hypocritical world

    February 7, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      You seems to know how much the opposition groups are armed, can you give us one source for your information other than Ass-ad or Khumaini. The only media that did not report this massacre are Syrian state run TV and Hizbullah TV, do you work for them or something

      February 7, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Sure you have to start your comment by this statement "First of all I condemn the killing of all innocents civilians" otherwise how you can talk garbage for the rest of your comment

      February 7, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samuel

      @Sam8888, FIRST sorry for the loss of innocent people and I am definitely not with the Syrian regime, but you need to take a chill pill, be respectful to others and don't spend hours in front of TV and trashing everybody else who call out your misinformation/lies ......Second, there is a reason China and Russia voted against the UN resolution, I think they know better then you do.... Third, since when CNN and FOX news are the trusted source of info, if you take your head out of the sand and look beyond CNN, FOX and aljazeera, you would see reports about how opposition groups and army defectors (the free Syrian army) are well armed and carrying out operations

      February 7, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dave

    The Arab League has the capacity and proximity to act today. They lack the will. And shame on Russia and China

    February 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cassandra Chu

    ... Rice is all talk and no show. blah-blah-blah....
    ... and where was Rice with the Jews were dropping bombs on the Palestinian civilian school, hospitals and UN monitoring posts?

    February 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dot8

    Assad should be forced to visit Satan, the sooner the better.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • trinisyrian

      THIS RICE AND GODZILLA RICE SHOULD BE COOKED AND FED TO PIGS

      February 7, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • trinisyrian

      TEL THAT TO BUSH,BLAIR,BUMSFELD AND CHENY.THEIR TIME WILL COME TO.

      February 7, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      trinisyrian, Exactly that is what they are going to do to Assad, just wait and see

      February 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. al sullivan

    I love the unbais reporting of CNN "fight for freedom" buying the Obama line that this was something generated out of the people, and not orchestrated by American special services. My friend quiit CNN because he couldn't stand being forced to buy Obama's propaganda, and from this questionable reporting, I understand why.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Ass-ad secret service
      Whitewash, whitewash,whitewash,Whitewash, whitewash,whitewash,Whitewash, whitewash,whitewash,Whitewash, whitewash,whitewash,Whitewash, whitewash,whitewash,Whitewash, whitewash,whitewash,Whitewash, whitewash,whitewash

      Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense, Nonsense

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

      what a stupid remark....who cares who started what where and how. What matters is the fact that for over 1 year people have been getting slaughtered by a regime that clearly doesn't care about it's people. Imagine if that happened in the US. would you be making this comment if the american army was attacking americans and killing hundreds of people every week? do you even know why people are wanting to overthrow the governement? Maybe you should find out and then make a comment? you have no clue what oppression is. I'm pretty sure you listen to FOX news, they'll probably have a similar opinion as yours. Who knows, maybe Obama is to blame for everything that goes wrong in the world.

      February 7, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. GC

    why do we even bother taking the matter to the UN security council? It is a waste of time, as long as Russia and China are perm. members!

    February 7, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Maria

    This one has to go like the others ,it is time for this dicator leave ,and stop the killing if he is away .

    February 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • trinisyrian

      I WOULD LIKE TO STICK MY SHOE IN HER MOUTH

      February 7, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      trinisyrian, soon she will stick a rocket in Assad's A $ $

      February 7, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Eric459

    The kil!ing of protesters and continuation of a dictatorship you go Russia, China (clap clap)

    February 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TATIKENDI

    Right now China and Russia are sitting around a table over dim sum and vodka saying "we f'uped this one didn't we"

    February 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Paul Willson

    The west should stay away from interfering in this civil war

    February 7, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Yes, but this is not a civil war, this is corrupt government (gang) killing citizens

      February 7, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Eric459

    We don't have a choice to do anything much they veto'd the west

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

    The USA has done the same thing blowing up civilians , women and children by the thousands many many times in many many countries. why is this different? because we arnt the ones doing it?

    February 7, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. paul canada

    the death and destruction in syria far out reachs what happened in LYBIA, there is a humanitarian side of life, civilian deaths of old people, womens and children as well as wounds and mutilated by weapons and bombs are far beyond what is acceptable, the united states and western country,s and middle east country,s should invade syria on compassionate grounds, even though china and russia veto the un vote, china and russia does not have a right neither does the syrian leader to inflict the casualty,s of war on those people , they have told thier leader they do not want him, it is his responsibility to leave , i hope they are going to put that leader before a military tribune,

    February 7, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sam8888

    Oh yes, when we attacked Iraq we got the OK from UN, when we attacked Libya we go okay from UN, when we attacked Sudan we got the okay from the UN

    February 7, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
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