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. Glh1

    God forgive us for lying our way to war in Iraq and squandering so much goodwill amd political capital – not to mention blood and treasure – that we cannot intervene in Syria. Massacring civilians and especially children is beyond the pale, and Assad should face a war crimes tribunal. Earlier CNN had a picture of a Syrian boy of about 9 years of age holding a sign in English that said "if you do not help us, we will be killed.". God forgive us.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • trinisyrian

      MAN,WE ARE WAITING OVERDUE TIME FOR CRIMINAL COURT TO GIVE JUSTICE FOR INNOCENT LIVES LOST IN MILLIONS IN IRAQ.3 MILLION ORPHANS,800.000 WIDOWS.DEFECTIVE BIRTH BECAUSE OF PHOSPOROUS BOMBS USED IN FALUJA.WHEN WILL CRIMINAL COURT BRING BUSH,BUMSFELD,CHENY AND BLAIR TO CRIMINAL COURT,DON,T COMPARE ASSAD TO BUSH.IT IS OVER BALANCED

      February 7, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Blank Slate

      It is everyone's fault. We don't read these articles, don't care. Our inaction allows our governments to allow the corporate world to influx these regimes with cash. Should these Machiavellian princes use it for capital? No, they use out on the tanks, the missiles, and the bullets that are massacring innocent human beings.

      February 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. trinisyrian

    ANSWER FOR 8888.WE ARE NOT STUPID LIKE YOU MISTER .WE WILL TAKE AWAY THE $$$$ AND SEND THE ROCKET UP SUSAN,S CONT .INENT...AL

    February 7, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • trinisyrian

      AND MR 8888 THE NEXT ROCKET IS AIMED AT YOUR A$$ HOLE

      February 7, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Sorry to tell you the rocket is only programmed to smell Assad's mom cont

      February 7, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ron

    Of course it is painful to see what is going on in Syria, but you have to ask yourself if we really can make a permanent difference. All the comments about our media misleading us are ridiculous. The US is far from perfect but we have freedom of speech and a free press and we won't allow any government to take our basic freedoms away. The US is still the best nation on the earth, even with our faults.

    The entire middle east hates the US and only wants us around when one of their own dictators has gone so far down the path of the middle eastern culture that even they can't stomach it anymore.

    The real answer has to come from the middle eastern people themselves. They have to learn how to live with each other without butchering each other and claiming some weird kind of religous justification.

    I have a son who will soon be old enough to join the military. The idea of my son dying for dogs in the middle east who live a culture of violence and have done so throughout history, and have not stood up and created a free society, is too wrong for words.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • osorio

      Very good point Ron, why make sacrifices for nothing total worthless, its time we Drill in Anwar drill more offshore the US has it all but we need someone with a spine of steel in the white house.....

      February 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    Stop blurring reality, CNN.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      SECRET POLICE ALERT

      Yes , since we only watch CNN

      February 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tokencode

    Can't wait for Ass-ad to join his friends bin laden, kim jong il and saddam. Just think of the south park episodes, I wonder which will end up satans 8!tch

    February 7, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. osorio

    I don't think the US or Europe should get involve, most likely if Assad is replaced the New Government will worst you just don't know what you'll get, but If Assad ignite a War against Israel in an attempt to gather support for his crazy regime Syria will surely be Destroyed, this time the IDF Tanks will roll into Damascus.......
    Mr TriniSyrian why don't you go live in the middle east or strap yourself with explosives and run towards a Israeli checkpoint if you want to make a statement rather then making idiotic treats to civilized people here, crawl back into your cave you Stupid Raghead

    February 7, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dave

    We should stay the heck out of the middle east for good!!! Americans can't seem to help Americans so why the heck should we go to help anyone else. The American people need to pull there heads out of their asses, take a step back and get a good look at the united states and see that of we are being set up to get our bits kicked. We don't need to loose any more of our military.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      Bravo dave, you have answered the 1 million dollar question, now we know why they hate us, just keep those people under dictatorship, so that we American be happy

      February 7, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Daniel

    The United Nations may use Resolution 377 to launch a NATO attack since Russia and China don't want to cooperate

    February 7, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. K

    The International Community, and ultimately the United States is failing to intervene for a number of reasons. First and foremost is Russia. If the USA actively invades Syria, or attempts a series of surgical strikes to soften the regime, Russia could act. Syria is a military ally to Russia...They trade guns together. It's not a far stretch for them to consider military intervention by the west as a direct threat to their interests. This has been made clear with the veto. Second, China. China will keep it's hands out of the pot until a clear winner is established. While condemning the western actions before the UN, China will extend olive branches to the victors. The are, by their nature and geography, economic allies. China's money wielding power in Syria could tip the balance of power to a regime favorable to them as opposed to more western-leaning governments. Third, Iran. Things aren't going so well for US/western allied-Iranian relations over the nuclear question and a renewed US presence in the area will serve to aid the opposition's rhetoric against the west. Syria is a huge foothold for a military poising for an attack on Iran as the US still has an impressive force in Afghanistan to the East. Russia may intervene in that event too, depending upon the severity of the attacks. The most logical, and stomach-turning course is for the dominant players to simply pour arms into the country and let them shoot it out while the world watches in horror at what they've done. This is also the most-likely scenario. Sad really. Our world and it's squabbles look much the same today as they did during the first half of the last century. We of whatever side, in order to prevent a third global conflict, are sacrificing thousands. How is our inaction this different from what the Allies allowed to go on in Germany in WWII, or with Fascism in general before all that began? They were killing their own people too. How is it that the "United" Nations has, with one vote, become as impotent as the League of Nations? How is it, with all these wonderful technological advances we've achieved, we still can't figure out how to keep from ripping each other to shreds? Hopefully, we can figure out a way to help these poor people. I just don't see it yet.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BoneyBonesJenkins

    1) USA withdraws from UN (as it is a complete waste of everyone's time and energy)

    2) USA secures it's interests in the world as long as it does not infringe on peaceful sovereign nations (fair market commerce in resources and goods is just fine)

    3) USA intervenes in any nation-sponsored political violence against its own people (because we're the boss and we don't tolerate that kind of s***. We have the military tech to back it up without question.)

    End of story.

    February 7, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandra

      How can I make donations to the people in Syria...are there any sources that I can trust to donate money and ensure it'll go to the innocent people?

      February 7, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Martin

    Where are the mass protests of the Muslim world we saw when the Muhammad cartoons were published?
    Apparently civilian lives don't matter for them except when Israel can be blamed.

    February 7, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam8888

      All those so called Muslim countries governed by suppressive regimes and will do what Ass-ad is doing now if the people tried to express their opinions freely, but for the prophet Muhammad cartoon, those governments turned a blind eye on protesters to convince their people that they are protecting Islam from the evil west

      February 7, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Valkyrie

    The Bashar al-Assad regime is in for American Hell

    February 7, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dave

    How much help can we be??? Obama is stripping our military. Out of our four military branches 100,000 troops are getting booted. And how much money is he scrapping off our defense to give himself a bail out for all the playing around he's done with the tax payers dollar. We can't afford to keep fighting every body else's fight.

    February 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bigwilliestyles

    There is no oil to be had in Syria; thus no interest from the west.

    February 7, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. nimrod

    Ithink it is sad but I am having some fun to see some other people suffer besides me. I suffered like those people before and usa did nothing. Please do not depend on usa, they are only interested in their own interests. i say usa stay out.

    February 7, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22