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. Jo

    CNN – PLEASE take this photo off of your frontpage!! As a mother, the death of this boy stings even though he's not my own. Putting his image up while not empowering your readers to do anything about the cause of death makes a mockery of the sacrifice of this young life. For profit enterprise or not, have more respect for the loss of life – particuarly a child's.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      You have the power to do something. Pick up a phone and call your congress people and demand that real action be taken.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ashley

      If they don't show disturbing graphics, then you won't understand. Saying many children and women have died does nothing...we, as Americans, are so accustomed to hearing about killings it means nothing unless we are affected or DISTURBED by it. I understand that it "stings" but Jo, if it doesn't...will you really care? Will you pay attention? Will you think about the children who are suffering deaths that are not deserved? These images should burn in your mind if you have any sense of remorse, then do something. Donate to relief efforts for those who were lucky enough to escape, spread the word, or do whatever you can. Seems like you care! – Ashley

      February 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jackola

      Amen to what you said.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CarryNOW

    It's perfectly okay to do nothing in this case since we don't get much, if any, Oil from Syria.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tybar

      Agreed. We have little or no strategic interest in Syria.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      That's a valid point. Why should we expend blood and treasure if there is not a clear advantage to us doing so? There are the moral arguments but how many lives is a moral argument worth? Oil, like it or not, powers our world, without it nations decline and fall. Resources are worth fighting over. Morals? That's a tough one. That being said, Syria is sitting on top of not insignificant oil reserves and is an oil exporter – around 150K BBL a day.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrPete

      Are you still dense enough to think that this is about oil? How about the fact that Syria is an ally of both China and Russia? Did you ever stop to actually think for a second to realize what the ramifications would be of going to war with them unilaterally? Of course you didn't.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • d.a

      We don't need to be getting anything in return in order to help others! Stop being selfish! Many people people are dying and you are worried about oil and exchanges between countries.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • svlubis21

      Bro the people from Syria are humans just like you and me. These people need help. This could be us son.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ashley

      It saddens me that a country filled with people such as ours and as free as ours can not identify and much less care about the terrific things happeneing in Syria. Whether we are or aren't economically invested in Syria is arbitrary to our helping this country.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GP1994

    Countries need to get together and help out Syria. The U.S. ahould intervene in this crisis to settle down and even though China and Russia vetoed the UN Resolution, they should still try to stop the violence.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • CircusTrainer

      do you think by arming the rebellion or providing logistical support they are doing nothing? they are inflaming the territory – the opposition does not want to negotiate – so the civil unrest continues – stop arming the rebellion and get the opposition groups to enter into dialogue – there just may be a peaceful means to end the brutality.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • MakeThemEatCake

      So you want the U.S. to continue to be the world's police force? there is a Arab League that needs to resolve this. If the Middle East REALLY wants the western powers to stay out of their political affairs then they need to step up. Regarding China and Russia vetoing any U.N involvement in this, what did you expect? Russia is still in recovery mode from their failed attempts to out spend the U.S. during the Reagan years so they hate us. China is now seeing how far they can push the U.S and other capitalist economies they financially control. The U.S. should sell the last commodity we have that other countries do not have, military services. Be the world's Blackwater (or whatever they call themselves today). No politics, just cash. And none of this credit crap. Real currency only; gold, silver, platinum, etc. And as the great Walter White says, "Money up front". You want our boots on the ground, our Navy patrolling your waters, our Air Force keeping your airspace clear, the bidding starts at...? No matter which side we take in a country's in-fighting, we always end up on the short end of the stick. If we are going to upset someone, why not get paid for it; offer to support either side. Which ever one makes the best offer, gets our services. Hell, if the price is right, you can even pay us to stay out of the fight.

      February 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Just a thought

    Very difficult to see and hear knowing that the International community is just sitting on the side-lines

    February 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hungryhungryhippo138

    So what's the difference between the slaughters in Iraq/Afghanistan and Syria? Syria has no oil to protect.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrPete

      Yeah, Afgahanistan–the big oil exporting nation. Really, the "it's all about oil" line is getting a little tired.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. glu

    Its not the United States job to police the whole fkg planet. Wake up you tools.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tim

    We stopped Milosovich from slaughtering Muslims in Serbia, where by the way Mujahadeed from all over the Middle East (including Bin Laden associates) were going to fight against him after they were freed up from fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan (thanks to America). What did America get in return? 9/11. Good idea Clinton & Rice, let's give them some more help and maybe we'll get 9/12! WE NEED TO KEEP OUR FINGERS OUT OF THE MACHINATIONS OF INTERNAL PROBLEMS OF M.E. COUNTIRES! SAVE THE PEOPLE OF DARFUR INSTEAD IF YOU NEED TO SAVE SOMEONE; THEY ARE BEING WIPED OUT BY THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS AND HAVEN'T EVEN DONE ANYTHING TO PROVOKE IT!

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

    What is really going on is that what here in the United States, we would consider "terrorists" are attempting to overthrow the Syrian government. As evidence of the violence bestowed on the peaceful occupy wallstreet protestors, if people started using weapons, do you think the US response to such an uprising would be any less violent? The truth is there are elements of the Syrian nation that are trying to create civil war, overthrow the dictator. There are also peaceful elements of the Syrian nation, that support the dictator. NO, a dictatorship is obviously not correct. NO, we should have no role in overthrowing any nation just because we don't like Assad, Syria is not a threat to any other nation. YES, western mainstream media is blasting propaganda at us, demonizing Syria, Iran, and now soon Russia and China. YES, this is an obvious ploy by the west to overthrow Syria, and Iran, and begin WW3 by bringing China, Russia and Pakistan into it. The US and UN want your support to begin WW3 over nothing. Over civil unrest in Syria. It is none of our business. It is sad and heartbreaking. But the people of that nation will be only worse off after the government falls, just as the people of Aghanistan, Libya and Iraq have been. The west has no place in these nations. We have always installed and used puppet dictatorships for our own means, the US gov't does not care about their democracy. We have bombed their civilians, women and children alike in the nations we have waged war in the past 10 years. The US does not care about civilian casualties. WE call it collateral damage.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • theworldisdoomed

      Very well said.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Immi

      The people of Libya are doing better without Muammar Gadaffi. And the Syrian uprising was peaceful just like Egypt and Tunisia, but Assad's regime used live bullets on them. Why would the US start WW3? And, over SYRIA? Why? What does the US have to gain with Syria? There's nothing for us there. Stop being a conspiracy theorist.

      February 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Derrick, Atlanta

    Meanwhile on Xinhua and Russia Today...

    February 7, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. rc

    The way the people in Syria are being treated is very horrible. They do not deserve to die the way the are and the government should leave them alone.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. minx

    Same thing was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is Syria a threat? NO....Why does the left want to get involved now? And don't use oil as an excuse, it. 4.00 dollars a gallon where I am, there's no oil...LOL

    February 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • shayne

      As I recall, Afghanistan has no oil and the right was who got the US involved in that country and Iraq, so your $4 gas analogy is worthless

      February 7, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. svlubis21

    China and Russia need to oversee there economic ties with Syria. People are dieing wile china and Russia are worrying about there economic ties.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Borealbob

    Where the hell is the United Nations? What was this body created for. A huge task force of armed UN forces should be assembled to invade Syria- kill this megalomaniac and establish PEACE.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Nadim

    I wonder if it's this bad in Syria, how bad would it be if an uprising in Iran happens?

    February 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. d.a

    Instead of Russia continuing the sale of weapons just to get more money, they should stop selling them so there wont be more deaths and this whole situation can stop.

    February 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
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