February 15th, 2012
11:37 AM ET

Inside Syria: Activists say trying to flee from homes under attack is virtually a suicide run

Editor's note: CNN correspondent Arwa Damon has reached the besieged Syrian city of Homs, which opposition forces say has been under a sustained artillery bombing for days.  

Damon is one of a few reporters in Syria, where the government has been placing restrictions on international journalists and refusing many of them entry at all. Below is an edited account of what Damon and her team are seeing and hearing from activists in Homs as attacks continue:

The thick black smoke rising across the skyline is from an oil pipeline that is believed to have been hit. We heard three explosions at around 6:30 in the morning. Shortly thereafter a thick plume of black smoke began covering the skyline here. This is not the first time we have seen these type of images emerging from the besieged city of Homs. That pipeline has been hit on at least two other occasions.

At around 7:30 a.m. local time the sustained bombardment began. We heard various sounds of artillery being fired as well as sporadic, heavy automatic machine-gun fire. This has been the status quo in Homs for more than a week now.

The Syrian military has really intensified its offensive here, especially in the neighborhood of Baba Amr. Activists say they believe the Syrian government is on a campaign to flatten every single neighborhood where there has been some sort of opposition, some sort of effort to try to stand up to this government.

Why increase in violence now?

Just to give you an idea of how intense the bombardment has been, Tuesday morning activists said they counted around 55 explosions in just the span of 15 minutes. They say that has been the norm. You can only imagine the type of pressure that they have been under, especially when it comes to trying to deal with the number of dead and the number wounded. In many parts of the city, they have been unable to get medical supplies in.

And in these makeshift clinics that they have set up, they aren't able to treat the wounded adequately because of a lack of medical supplies and because they only have the most basic medical equipment at their disposal. There has been an intensified effort on the part of the activists here to try to find various routes out of the besieged neighborhoods to get medical supplies in and to get the wounded out. Many of the wounded require much greater treatment than what people are able to provide at these clinics.

About 1 million people live in the city of Homs. We've been hearing people have been fleeing from some areas to other parts of the city. They've effectively been living with four, five, six families to a house in areas they are not able to get out of.

A lot of these areas that the Syrian government is hitting are in fact the poor parts of the city. Baba Amr, for example, is one of the most impoverished neighborhoods inside the city of Homs.

Families are gathering in makeshift shelters that are effectively the basements of some houses. Most houses here actually don't have basements, but the few that do have become makeshift shelters, where dozens of families are gathering along with their children. These are families that are either unable to get out or don't have the means to. They are effectively being forced to try to stay put.

Even when they do try to flee activists are telling us they often come under attack. There's a great problem we've heard reported that snipers are on basically every building, making any sort of escape routes an extreme real challenge. Activists say that people just trying to cross the street, women and children, are being sniped out.

You can just imagine the situation people are under, not just from a dangerous standpoint, but the psychological impact that this is having on these families, these civilians, who are stuck in these areas unable to get to safe ground or unable to get adequate medical treatment should they be hit in these attacks.

When it comes to those who have died, even trying to bury them has become an equally dangerous task.

In many instances they have to bury those they've lost under the cover of darkness or in makeshift graves. There have been a few cases where they've tried to bury the bodies of the dead under the cover of darkness - and even in those instances people say they've come under fire.

What's even more disturbing is that the activists say since this most recent campaign began in Homs 10 days ago, they believe hundreds have been killed. They don't have an accurate count on the death toll though, and that is because they still believe countless numbers of bodies are buried under the rubble.

There are a number of buildings that have come crumbling down because of the bombardment, where activists believe there were families inside - sometimes it is their families or relatives whom they haven't heard from in days. Quite simply, they can't reach these areas.

Movement in many parts of the city during the day is just about impossible. It's virtually a suicide run to try to move around for so many people. They have to move with extreme caution, so it's hard to gauge the magnitude, the human death toll, of this most recent escalation in violence.

Again, this has been the status quo in Homs for more than 10 days now, and that is just a result of the most recent military crackdown, not to mention that for months now many parts of the city have been under siege.

That is why so many of the activists here are so desperate, trying to reach out to the international community. They are unable to comprehend how in the 21st century that this type of onslaught can be taking place in full view of the international community of global powers, of various humanitarian agencies, and yet no concrete action has been really taken to bring a true end to the violence here.

Read more dispatches from the attacks in Syria:

Inside Syria: Fearful residents prepare for a bloody battle

Paid killer in Syria describes his work

One activist's chronicle of daily hell in Syria

soundoff (256 Responses)
  1. dreamer96

    Running auto transmission fluid through a gas engine..even a small engine will make a thick smoke screen...one person carrying a rope can make the run the first time and others can use the rope as their guide...a few car parts like hoods on small wheels and re-enforced with more metal or even sandbags can be used to cross....like a turtle shell as protection...or dig tunnels using a gas or electric post hole auger driller...or pick and shove...basement to basement....across the streets..their are things you can do...a car with hoods and extra metal and sand bags and drive across...think creatively don't just run out there..and look for where the snipers are put smoke screen around where they are...get some CB radios or walkie talkie..use a code language...change channels..use one for broadcast one for receiving, watch out of your signal being back tracked...put antenna away from radio location and watch for people going to the antenna location...

    February 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • dreamer96

      Once a rope is across a street...use it to pull supplies back and forth no one has to go out there..use the rope..or thin wire...harder to see and shoot at..You can throw the rope with at weight across to someone else on the other side..and never have to cross the streets for supplies...

      February 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • dreamer96

      The Syrian government could have hit the oil pipeline to make a smoke screen so U.S. satellites can not see what is going on down there...collect intelligence on forces...but we could drop in some small remote controlled mobile cameras with satellite links...so Syria is in for a surprise...

      February 15, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. FauxNewz

    Silly rebels, they haven't jeopardized any oil flow, so no one cares.

    February 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. olotata

    Stopp urgly propaganda
    Darmon did the same in Libya. She is lying. She is not in Sirya

    February 15, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheTraveler

      Evidently, you're not even on the planet ...

      February 15, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • wow

      "She is lying. She is not in Sirya"

      Correct. She is in Syria.

      February 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bob

    I assume the conditions in Homs are little different to those in Fallujah in Iraq no more than a decade back ( at which time journalist were careful to stay out and not report the consequences ). Then it was the international community doing it – so sadly for the residents of Homs, either the international community will do nothing in which case it will be bad, or they may intervene in which case it will be a whole lot worse I suspect.

    February 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • dangbrave

      Indeed, the situation now has only horrible outcomes. The ugly affects of selfishness and greed against others.

      February 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dangbrave

    Arwa, and producers or whomever else is over there, be safe. you rock. Arwa pullin out the stops again. A true reporter living the lifestyle so we can know whats up. Nice job Arwa.

    February 15, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I would agree with you in regards Arwa if she had followed the same ethic in Fallujah and gone into the city while it was besieged. The reason I mentioned Fallujah was that according to her resume she was there – but on the outside. A BBC study found that journalists had sanatized the Iraq war – and thus acted in effect for one side ( partial ). The problem I see is that journalism seems to me to have moved away from verification towards mere dissemination of anything they can get their hands on – in which case is it journalism or one or the other sides propaganda.

      February 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. rad666

    al-Assad is just following America's policy of "might makes right."

    February 15, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • dangbrave

      2 wrongs doesn't make 1 right. If you're trying to say that all governments, the US in particular, commit violence to some degree, you're right, but it doesn't make this situation right. And it doesn't mean we can't condemn it.

      February 15, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • wow

      "rad666" is typical of the cowardly Arab.

      Everything wrong with him is someone else's doing.

      February 15, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Superman

    Blah blah blah blah blah.........must be nice to live in a country where you dont have to worry about snipers right? You dont understand do you? In this part of the world these people are much, much more resourcefull than you realize if these people had the things available to them to accomplish these tasks than they would be much better off! If we were to arm these rebels in syria and the civilians this would be over in two weeks thes people would beat the hell out of the gov forces and even hang ASS SAD! Ive we could just arm these people with russian and chinese arms with the right stuff they would end this quickly

    February 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike, Cleveland OH

      Here in the US, there is approximately one gun per household (on average). This sort of evens the odds.
      If my city were ever under "occupation" like this, I'd expect looking for snipers would be much like deer season .. minus the blaze orange and permits, of course.

      February 15, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Here's the problem ...

      ...the problem with overthrowing governments is knowing when to stop.

      SEE: Egypt

      February 15, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John A. San Nicolas

    I think Arwa's reporting is doing more harm than good, especially her references to specific locales and basements, etc. This type of information makes the targeting of artillery shelling much easier for the Assad regime. Certainly they have blueprints of these areas and any such references are counter productive. If I was in the opposition, I would seriously censure the information she is making public.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr Man

      You really think the civilians/rebels are fully disclosing all of their real secrets to a CNN reporter? You even think the Syrian gov't cares about this site? Please. Besides, what good does "hiding in basements" really do for them, the gov't is going to demolish everything anyway.

      February 15, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Keyser

    What a Bummer. Superman....Help! Somebody please.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sam Monterio

    What a shame! The least we can do is to allow the support of the Free Syrian Army with money paid by Arab Oil States and logistics from Turkey or Jordan to defend civilians? What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for another massacre to happen similar to Rwanda? You know what! We deserve what Iran will be doing to us, by monopolizing the whole region, process WMD and making our life miserable by controlling oil supplies. Act now or you are doomed by Assaad regime, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      actually if the UN/US intervenes and removed Assad what will happen in Syria will be LIKE Rwanda. As bad a person as Assad is, at least it's a 'stable'. If the country goes into chaos there will be civil war and 100x more people will die from it. Most westerners do not understand Syria.
      There are many deep tribal, sects and religious roots there and if Assad and his evil regime goes it will be free for all!!!!

      February 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dan, TX

    Was it the Keystone XL pipeline that was bombed by radical environmentalist just to prove how much damage could be done by a pipeline that spewed oil in a critical aquifer region?

    February 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • sdfs

      It was largely just unpopular.The US is swimming in domestic oil right now that oil companies are selling overseas for higher prices or are sitting on it; all the while gas prices go up and up. The pipeline would only give an outlet for US oil companies to ship it all off to China from the port of Houston.

      February 15, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • sdfs

      BTW is was the oil refineries who actually filed the lawsuits. The "radical" environmentalists only criticized it.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jeff Frank ( R - OHIO ) "Яight Wing Иutcase"

    Syria....no leadership whatsoever. A country run by a sociopath.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Blayze Kohime

    I don't understand why the military leadership and soldiers are following such orders without question. Aren't some of their families going to be in danger the longer this continues?

    February 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Abu Ali

    Zero credibility, activist told me that 50 explosion in 15 minutes & oddly enough for the whole time she is reporting its clam . How we know she is even in Syria. How about the rest of the country . Reporting one side of the story is not fair, need fair & balance reporting. It’s simple if the Syrian army bombing the city for 10 days & you still see bldg. standing ???? all BS , trying to drag U.S to another war, what we did learn from Iraq ? the war was based on one big fat lie .

    February 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ed

    Always a danger when you go against a dictator that he will not "retire" and go away. When he doesn't you have an all out civil war and yes, civilians will be in the middle of it and yes they will be targeted to cause enough terror to stop the revolt. As to other nations taking "sides" in the battle – hard to do when you don't really know what the winning side will be like. Normally in the Middle East you go from one dictator to another (including Clerics as dictators). From a U.S. standpoint best to be outraged about cilivan killings – but let them kill each other until they get tired of it. Let the other Arab nations get involved if they wish but no benefit for the U.S. to get involved.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
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