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. CADude

    So much for an "Arab Solution to Arab Problems".

    February 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Daniel

    Is it really necessary to have a large graphic of a dead child on the front of the cnn.com? I am not a fan of censorship. I respect the reality of what is happening in Syria... but please, don't put dead kids on the front page. Not cool...

    February 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • R. Diane

      Those poor people are under attack Daniel...would you say the same if it were happening here in the US somewhere? Three words....get a heart!

      February 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • rs1201

      I feel as much pity for the syrians as they did when they celebrated the 9/11 attacks on America....NONE!
      It's sad that people are dying but I have to keep remembering that syrians would not lift a finger if this were happening in the US or in Israel...arabs should take care of other arabs...

      February 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      I'd have to say that the child's parents don't think the pre-mature death was very cool. This is the reality of the world we live in. There's no point in sheltering yourself from such images, because it doesn't make the situation go away.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • JMBnLA

      I say show it so the western powers will get off their asses and do something. Nothing else seems to be working...they're killing kids...and if that's what it takes to get someone to do something...then show the dead...all...of...them.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CADude

    to Moshe'...............well said!

    February 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Hector

    The tragedy of this massacre is we the Free world stand silent and do nothing. And china and Russia dictate with UN vetoes the death of many innocents. Why can China and Russia do it? Because we the US are financially obligated to China and afraid of Russia. How about sanctions against China and Russia like not doing business? Awh! that's where our humanity ends because it's not good business to sanction China or Russia. SO who are the real killers? All of the countries including our Nation that allowed this atrocity to stand because China and Russia placed vetoes to a UN resolution. Resolutions are only as good as the resolve of free nations to make them happen. But, it bad business...so the atrocities continue. Shame on all of us for allowing it.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ronald Hussein Reagan

    Blood in the streets; it's up to my ankles."

    February 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. FrostingGod

    If you really want the violence to stop, stop making weapons!! God will not intervene for the sake of your created hell! Those who break God's laws, (written on your heart so you will know!) do so at the expense of an eternity of torment.Many realize only to late, that they have sold their soul to Satan for paycheck, pride or patriotism. Now might be a good time to remind the inheritors of this earth!

    February 7, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      God has changed his name to Satan!

      February 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • PaulieJ

      You're an idiot. Man has been killing man before the days of steel (swords), before the days of bullets and before the days of bombs. You can try to remove all the "tools" you want but you cannot erase the intent of one man to do harm to another. So while you're praying to your so-called God, be sure to give him thanks for that.
      And then maybe take some time for a history lesson of all the thousands/millions that have died in your God's name.
      You want to stop the violence? Start by getting rid of fear, ignorance and hate.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      Well mankind is stumped. If we put a stop to this it may cause WW3 and kill everyone. If we don't, we might offend God. I think that God needs to take care of this one himself. I'm out of answers, and from where I sit its all his fault, and his responsibility. Crap should flow uphill, that is what service leadership is about right?

      February 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. D MDEV

    SYRIA is one big BESLAN(The Russian school attacked by terrorists)
    Stop the Killling of Syrian Children.They are no different from Russian Children

    February 7, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • 111

      say it better to Obama and usa goverment. usa started all arabian conflicts. usa pay money to oppositionist, and they starting all this shit... And all children's blood is on usa hands. Russia and China will stop american invasion in arabic countries. God bless the Russia

      February 8, 2012 at 4:05 am | Report abuse |
  8. Fuzzy

    Why should the US care? Especially since Syria doesn’t have something we want? They people of Syria hate us, and the few sympathizers on here can’t stand us either. Now their people are dying and we are supposed to help? To bad, so sad. Go pray to your Muslim God’s for help. I mean isn’t it all hail “fill in the name of your so called peaceful God here!” All you so called peaceful people who have hated everything about us for so long, go line up in front of your local Russian or Chinese Embassies and ask for their help!

    February 7, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer NYC

      The US and all peoples of the earth should care about their fellow man. Many stood by while 6 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered by Hitler...look at the killing fields of Cambodia, Idi Amin, on and on....it is not right. It is against the laws of God. How can we sleep safely in our beds at night while these little children are being mutilated and slaughtered? Unarmed civilians...what if it happened here? We would be doing the same as the Syrian people...standing up against it.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      Do you want help from other nations of the world when bad things start happening to the US? Go to nucleartippingpoint dot org to see what is in the future of the US. Will you need help? If so will any other country help? boom

      February 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Jennifer NYC is right. Look at all the dead iraqis, afghans, libyans, and palestinians. You really should have a heart for them.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • kw

      I've been to the middle east many times going on my 8th combat tour and every time I go there nothing changes. They still hate us. They have been killing each for hundreds of years and nothing will change. They are too divided by tribes, ethnic groups, etc. I'm tired of going there for nothing and once we leave the killing will happen again. Look at Iraq and other countires and there so called arab spring that our government.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jay

    If George Bush had not gotten us into 2 wars that were a waste of our lives and time and money we would have had the resources to help these people. W had to go get Saddam because he had said something bad about W's daddy. 5000 people dead. Zero positive outcome. The outcome was negative, not positive, and thousands dead, for nothing, zero.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      LOL – drone – keep reading the liberal talking points. The whole mid east is now aflame because of OBAMA.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Bob, keep spamming anti-Obama rants, but it's obvious you're an escapee from the short bus. Take your drivel back to Faux News.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bob

    Way to go obama – weaken the country and thousands and thousands die because they now know the US Is a paper tiger. ANYBODY BUT OBAMA

    February 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fuzzy

      Wow, hahaha you racist pig! How is this Obama's fault? Come on lay it out.....put it right there, and explain your rational of thinking that this is Obama's fault.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Donate to the collection to send Bob a brain. Faux News stole his and replaced it with a tape loop that just plays childish anti-Obama rants. Grow up.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Curtis

      Bob, I think the batteries on your 24/7 Rush Limbaugh/Hannity Radio just died. You better go put some more in before you have to think for yourself.

      February 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      Liberals are such race baiters – wt f does my comment have to do with the color of my skin. As we all know race baiters are almost as evil as child abusers. This conversation has to do with obama weakening our military and our country to the point that dictators think they have immunity. Obama is killing hundreds of thousands of our brown skin friends in the middle east and everywhere else with his non leadership.

      February 7, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jane

    Oh God! how long God ... how long will this beast and his friends are going to kill? Your children's blood is runing like river in streets of Syria. God help us.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. What could happen

    – Russia/China abstained from the Security Council vote on Libya and then watched from the sidelines as Nato bombed Libya against their wishes. They'll veto every Security Council motion this time, setting them in rigid opposition.

    – Right now the CIA and Turkey are backing insurgents within Syria. It's likely Turkey would allow strikes from their bases.

    – NATO will go in once Hamas again strikes Israel with rockets, and Syria and Iran look to be culpable.

    – Israel will strike Damascus.

    – Iran will close the Straits of Hormuz

    – NATO & Israel will attack Syria and Iran, with Turkey aligned. Who knows what kind of mess this will be if Russia and China stand with Iran.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      This will be perfect. There will be plenty of jobs in the military. War is good for the economy like your politicians have always been saying. But I believe your leaders would be too cowardly to handle a nuclear war. All the wealth they have grabbed would be gone in a puff of smoke. The simple truth is you have more to lose than the Russians or the Chinese. Your was is lost before you even get it started.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kay

    New World Order is getting expensive, isn't it?

    February 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. IronWarLord

    Can't wait for more profiteering to be had as we "Give" (really we are selling) them "Aid" or guns when we could just send a specific force in take him into custody or whatever international lingo they have for it. Then with all the lives saved from not going through a costly battle, (not just in money but lives) let the people rebuild with "Guidance" from others. But it is more fun and easier to just sit back and make money as people die. And so we are clear where did this nation get all the weapons it is using to kill its people? Wonder if any say MADE IN AMERICA since that is all we seem to export these days besides jobs.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      Evidently I'm told they say Made In Russia. But hell I'm not sure who to believe these days.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jack M

    Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski! The bums lost! I recommend doing what your parents did, and go get a job sir.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
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