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. Omar

    I guess when the Muslim brotherhood and the Jihadist take over Syria things will be much better. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between CNN and Al jazeerah.

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

      Absolutely correct! We will have no say in the outcome, so why in the world would we get involved?? We will win NO points with the people of the Middle East if we help the rebels.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ching

    china's downfall will come from its foreign policy . what china is doing in the middle east is really good for the US and the west, china and russia will become the new oppressors of muslims , the new shatan . there have been abductions of chinese workers , that is just the start , the next step will be beheadings . china also has a growing african problem , the hatred is growing stronger and stronger , they seem to have forgotten idi amin dada of uganda . keep up the good work ,china and russia !

    February 7, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BV

    Another propaganda stunt by the media to outrage an average Joe and paving the groundwork for next invasion.
    Syria is a sovereign state. The opposition uprising and the government responded with the military action during winch people die. I don't care about Syria and their people, if you do, go there and fight. I don't want our solders to die and our money spent on meaningless wars.
    By the way, try violently oppose American government here. You won't last a day

    February 7, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • C in CA

      I think the point is that these people were being violent in their protests, there were just voicing opinion – something people in this country do have the right to do.

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

      @ C in CA. Even if it was true (which it isn't. The rebels are as violent as the government) then let them fight. US doesn't care either by the way. Governments have no friends – they have interest. We're protecting our interests just like Russia and China do. People in the middle die and CNN generously posts the tasty material

      February 7, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • ASM

      This is not a propaganda stunt ... The reporters are not CNN reporters they are independents that infiltrated the country .. SYRIA has banned major networks to come in and report ... Get your story straight ... Assad is worst then a terrorist ... HE IS KILLING HIS OWN PEOPLE !!!!!! He will go down mark my word , in less the a couple of moths , these attrocities cannot be anylonger ... I agree it does not have to be the US everytime but , someone has to help these innocent people ... little children !!!!!!!

      February 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. colininqatar

    LETS LIGHT THE FUSE ON SYRIA TONIGHT. LIBYA 2.0! CHINA AND RUSSIA WONT DO ANYTHING BUT WATCH I PROMISE YOU THAT.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. redmonde

    I know this is a horrible reality for a lot of people right now and believe me when I say I'm praying for peaceful resolutions... BUT must you advertise the death of that innocent child.. PLEASE TAKE THAT DOWN!

    February 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mike in Montana

    This is pure madness.. Why we, the United States and NATO, don't go in and stop this madness and killing of innocent people is beyond me. To see a child killed, for bascially no reason, except for power and and greed within Syria. We should go in with NATO and protect the citizens of Syria and take down the power regime in Syria. More and more innocent citizens of Syria will die everyday.., until we and NATO do something. Internation sanctions are NOT working against Syria leadership and the killing of innocent citizens will continue, until we say, "The Buck Stops Here !".., enough is enough with this senseless killing of Syria citizens. They want their freedom, lets give them a try, at getting their freedom from a terrible government, that doesn't even care if they live or die and or for that matter, anything else in Syria. Mike in Montana

    February 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • DK

      We need to drop the whole Team America: World Police role and take care of things at home. Many died during the our revolution but it was "our" revolution. Let's let them have theirs.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snap

      The fact that Russia and China said no is enough for me to do nothing. What part of nuclear holocaust do people not understand? You think Russia and China will just sit and watch, but you don't know that. That might be the straw that breaks the camels back. There is no room for taking chances with things like that. There is no room for one nation acting like it is the right hand of God and ignoring international law. Either with all the big players on board or not at all. The stakes are just to high.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jack M

    Not our problem! Let the Romulan Empire straighten this out

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

      Would you pass an innocent homeless person on the street who was getting violently beaten for no reason, and say "Oh, its not my problem" and skip away?. I bet you would because you are pathetic.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sam

    If 50,000 people marched in front of the White House and started demanding to oust President Obama, we'd let it slide for a few days. If they got a little more violent with riot police, we'd start throwing them in jail. But if they kept at it and demanded change, God knows the US military would start killing without regard as well. I'm not talking about basic rioting or looting, I'm talking about people actually trying to overthrow the government and revolutionize. It would never happen, because for the most part we live cushy a$$ lives, but if it did, we'd get slaughtered as well.

    And in both cases it's wrong as all hell.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. geoenvy

    I do not condone this senseless violence but it is an internal matter. The rebels are no saints either. There is a war going on and we should just not take sides. Unfortunately, violence goes on in too many parts of the world. Trying to condemn violence of a state against its people is one thing but advocating regime change is another thing. Just let the people sort it out. By aligning ourselves with the Arab spring, we already installed Islamic radical governments in Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia. Sometimes we just need to let the world play itself out and don't interfere

    February 7, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • d.a

      How are we not going to interfere when there are many kids being killed? Kids that are just growing up! Think about it, they can't play peacefully the way we once did because they are being attacked. It's ridiculous for people to be killed and for no one to help.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Matt C

    I think we should support Turkey's proposed initiative. These are their immediate neighbors with a democratic govenment and the ninth largest military in the world. Let them lead the charge.

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

      Funny….

      February 7, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tim

    Revolutions cost blood. This is nothing new. Assad is only killing people because they're rising up. He has not stated a philosophy of genocide like Hitler. If you don't like it, be ready to give your life like all Americans who ever joined the military to defend OUR freedom! Get a backbone Syria! Grow some testicles!! You may need to loose 1 million citizens like America did in its own Civil War to appreciate your evenutal freedom. George Washington and his followers suffered a million times more than you have over a several year period. You should be prepared for death by starvation, freezing, summary executions, and everything else others have had to suffer fro their freedom.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bruce Lee

    RUSSIA and CHINA need to AGREE to the resolution in order to help Syria out.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Paula

    The Middle East has been fighting since the beginning of time, and will continue to do so until the end of the time!

    February 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. CoolHand

    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 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Frank Brady

    This is the same set piece program that was used so successfully in Libya. First NDI "community organizers" ("U.S.-based non-governmental organizations sent in to help "develop democracy") work to covertly destabilize the target country. Then U.S., GCC, and NATO black ops troops establish a "resistance army," often populated and operated by former al Qaida "terrorists", to engage the target regime in combat. Finaly, "the Community of Nations" (the Empire and its ragtag possee of failed European Welfare States) leap in to rescue the people and establish a puppet regime, loyal to the Empire. We've seen this shown before.

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

      Except it will not work this time. The russian and chinese nukes say no.

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