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. 1kurecket

    Quite frankly. Why should we help set up another Muslim theocracy? No one predominantly Muslim country in the world is pluralisticly democratic. Not one. The closest that is held up is Turkey, but it's more myth than reality. If you're Turk, it's ok as long a you fall within what us acceptable for a Turk; but it sucks if you are liberal progressive, Kurdish, or any other ethnic or political minority. I speak as a Muslim who has lived in various Muslim countries and as a man who is married to a Turk: there is no true freedom in Muslim countries – not in the Western sense of free thinking and pluralistic respect for individual rights and freedom of conscience. So why should we help? Assad is better than what he will be replaced with – Sunni salafists who only will curb the Alawi, moderate Sunni, and Christian freedoms in the name of "true" Islam....

    February 15, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      Now that you have made your decision, you can sit back and relax while 100s are killed every day. Its about humanity and human rights, its not about relegion of ethnic origin or whether assad is worse or better. NO government should turn its tanks to kill its people and civilans. FULL STOP.

      February 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1kurecket

      To Jack:

      And when the replacement of Assad is complete, what should we do when the Sunni salafists start to systematically harass and murder Alawis, liberal Sunnis, and Christians? Stop them, but will we become involved on low level ethnic and religious cleansing? No we won’t! We didn’t in Iraq and our troops were there. I have Sunni family in Iraq and the US did nothing! Flee to Jordan was the best option. The Christians have all but left Iraq. Ask the Copts how they like their new Sunni salafists masters in Egypt. Your thinking is too small. Let us help prevent a small massacre so that we can allow for low-grade ethnic and religious cleansing. The number killled by Assad will surely be lower than if we let the “activists” prevail. If America supports pluralistic democracy, let it save its help for those who support it’s values. The Arab spring has been a bust for pluralism, but a win for close-minded salafists. Islam is not able to be what America dreams it will be….let’s not fool ourselves and get involved again….

      February 15, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      You are making wrong assumption. I bet you never lived in syria. there's no close-minded salafists there. and if they are and they assumed power at some point then the syrian people will through them out, the same way they are throughing assad now.

      February 15, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1kureckert


      You're right. I've never lived in Syria, but I know Syrians (and, surprise, they support Assad and they are Sunni). Have you been to Syria? Do you even know Syrians? Have you had family, people you KNOW and LOVE, fall under American bombs in the mistaken desire to "help"? You speak out of ignorance – shameful ignorance. ("no" salafists in Syria? Not one? Really? And you gained that insight how? Your long experience living in the Middle East, the deep and nuanced experience in Islam and with Muslims, or your lengthy personal relationships with Syrians??? Tell me how you can make a statement so certain in its fallaciousness... I am dying to know.) My family in Iraq suffered due to American "intervention" and what came of it – sectarian strife, unspeakable violence. Ask an Iraqi if they are better off now, if Iraq is better off. Ask them why they fled, why their family members died. Once these "activists" obtain power, then what? Roses in every home? Dancing in the streets? Pluralism and democracy for everyone? You are a fool to think that is what will come of it. The salafists and the more extreme elements of Syrian society that back the uprising will engage in the slow harassment, murder, and expulsion of liberal Sunnis, Alawites, and Christians. Helping the "activists" will only lead to greater death of others, but it will be low-grade extermination and you won't care as it won't be on your news... (And the Americans won't help – they were in Iraq during all the bloodletting...) Look at the mess of Libya and the unchecked suffering and persecution of minorities and secularists in Egypt. That is what you want, I assume... Better Assad and some liberal secularism than Saudi Arabia lite....

      February 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bill

    @Realist: Answer 4 questions::

    1. What is the total size of our deployment in Iraq?
    2. What is the total size of our deployment in Afghanistan?
    3. What is the minimum deployment size needed for the rest of the planet?
    4. What is our total military size?

    There is nothing sudden about us being out of resources.

    February 15, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. gomer

    I hope the opposition is able to successfully mount some sort of counter attack. The more Muslims kill each other off, the better it is for the rest of the world.

    February 15, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • lisa

      that's a horrible thing to say. these are innocent people getting killed. is that what people that believed in timothy mcveigh's rantings said when he blew up the building in Oklahoma City? Have you no compassion for innocent women and children who are just vistims of a war against a dictatorship. I bet you're a raging Christian fanatic who quotes the Bible evry chance they get, and yet you feel these crimes against humanity are acceptable? you need to remember the simple things your momma taught you as a child, all people are created equal.

      February 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chris

    Our media has skewed reality over there. You guys really think that the government in Syria is targeting babies from rooftops? That thier goal is create suffering in their own country? This is a Political War just like most others. Rebels disagree with how things are being done. They arm up. The military steps in and attacks the rebellion. You think those Syrian soldiers aren't civilians when they go home, that they have family in neighboring towns? Every innocent death is collateral. Those snipers on the rooves are probably doing what what any military would do: tracking enemy movements, taking out targets of oppurtunity and keeping an eye on the enemy. But our media says stuff like "a car got shelled with a family inside". Yeah, that's exactly what the artillary was aiming for, that'll teach'em.

    February 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • lisa

      OMG. You are so uneducated about what's going on in the Middle East. I'm embarrassed for you if you try to have an intelligent conversation regarding this matter at a dinner party. Much less run off at the mouth in a public forum like this. Stop being so hateful and ignorant, read up on the history of the wars in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and now Syria, and then find out what;s the difference in each one of them. Maybe then you waon't have such a jaded view about crimes against humanity.

      February 15, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Syrian77

      To Lisa:

      Chris is actually right in a lot of ways. Do you seriously believe that the Syrian army is trying to enter Baba Amr and other hot areas because they want to punish anyone who dared oppose the government? And do you have an explanation for why they haven't simply entered already? Are the peaceful demonstrations forming a formidable force that the army can't penetrate? It's ridiculous. There are armed militants in those regions. Militants who have taken over and basically set up their own zones. No government in the world would tolerate such a presence of terrorists on its turf. Also, residents of Homs who live in neighborhoods perceived to be "pro-regime" have been under attack for months now, with many people having been kidnapped and killed in the most barbaric of ways. Corpses have been found mutilated by these so-called "activists". It is time that the military puts a stop to all this, which many residents of Homs have been demanding for a long time.

      February 15, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      What's your point Lisa? That Muslims fight total wars where everyone is fair game? That doesn't negate that fact that government forces are fighting armed rebels and have little incentive to cause more damage than is necessary to stop the rebellion. The media tries to play it like a slaughter of innocents rather than a war where innocents die. I don't understand how that makes me hateful. If your such a humanist than humanize the syrian soldiers for a change and put yourself in thier prospective.

      February 15, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. armyaviation2000

    Anyone else notice the ones always talking tough and demanding action are never the ones that do the fighting and dying?
    Real tough talking chicken hawks and keyboard warriors, that would run to Canada if there was a draft.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • lisa

      AMEN. Tough guys sitting behind a keyboard, anonymously shouting about hatred. I doubt they've ever made their parents proud. Unless this is the hatred their parents preached to them. Somehow I doubt it.

      February 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jenny

    They are aiming at innocent people, they are trying to show people this is what happens when u go against Assad

    February 15, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Elendur

    To those saying that a majority of Syrians support the Government. What was public government support in Egypt two or three years ago? 90% in public opinion? Maybe some regions of Syria are pro-govt? Think Iraq? That does not justify shelling another village in any way.

    If every single tank and artillery battery in the country are aimed at my children and shelling them, I'm voting for the government body that owns those assets. Even if the vote is confidential, I'm still checking off the same box. It's called oppression by military.

    Keeping the only people that matter safe means shutting your trap. Most people in North America that hate their job probably would not express it in the boardroom. Basically the same thing.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. 1kurecket

    To Jack:

    And when the replacement of Assad is complete, what should we do when the Sunni salafists start to systematically harass and murder Alawis, liberal Sunnis, and Christians? Stop them, but will we become involved on low level ethnic and religious cleansing? No we won't! We didn't in Iraq and our troops were there. I have Sunni family in Iraq and the US did nothing! Flee to Jordan was the best option. The Christians have all but left Iraq. Ask the Copts how they like their new Sunni salafists masters in Egypt. Your thinking is too small. Let us help prevent a small massacre so that we can allow for low-grade ethnic and religious cleansing. The number killled by Assad will surely be lower than if we let the "activists" prevail. If America supports pluralistic democracy, let it save its help for those who support it's values. The Arab spring has been a bust for pluralism, but a win for close-minded salafists. Islam is not able to be what America dreams it will be....let's not fool ourselves and get involved again....

    February 15, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Here's the REAL truth

    Wow, CNN is still keeping up with the hyperbole. the propaganda machine never sleep! Hey America, where were you when Darfur needed aid? 300,000 dead and counting. That's about two zero's more then the current count of dead Syrian "activists". Why do you support Saudi? Yemen? Bahrain? All brutal regimes. Let's face it, the only reason CNN (the US government's media tool) is exploding with articles on the Syria situation is because they have an agenda to try to brainwash all you American sheeple into favouring another illegal invasion of a soverign country. Syria is Israel's enemy, and since Israel dictates US foreign policy in the middle east, you do what they say. You are HYPOCRITES and the entire planet knows it.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      i'm not.. i never did any of those things.. and israel has nothing to do with me..

      February 15, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • otomakascram

      So are you saying the the Syrian government is not bombing civilians? Are you saying that they are not torturing political prisoners? Are you saying that they are preventing doctors from treating the wounded? Are you saying that all of this is part of US "propaganda" and is not really happening and that really everything is just fine in Syria and no one is dying from actions of the Syrian government? Is that what you are saying?

      February 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Syrian77

      No, the Syrian army is NOT bombing Syrian civilians. That is absolutely absurd. As for torturing prisoners, yes, this is unfortunately a reality in Syria as it is in all Middle Eastern countries as well as many other countries around the world. What makes torture in Syria so much worse than torture in Saudi Arabia or Jordan or Egypt? However, in Syria right now the regime is not the only side doing the torturing. These so-called "activists", who are in fact Islamist militants, have kidnapped people, tortured them brutally, killed them and mutilated their corpses. It's not as if the side fighting the regime is saintly and represents the highest levels of civil and human rights.

      February 15, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Emelia

    If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem. For shame, America. Always playing the hero, except when it counts. They're begging for help, and you say 'they can handle it' without batting an eyelash. You all sicken me.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ken margo

    The big question is, where is Allah? Muslims pray to him 5x a day. If He doesn't appear now, when Arabs are killing Arabs when will he appear? It's time ALL religions get a grip on reality. THERE IS NO ONE UP THERE WATCHING EVERYTHING WE DO.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. leeintulsa

    @emelia: except when it counts? how is syria more important than *anything* else we've been in.

    how is it america's job to police the world? we sicken you, but apparently you can't live without us.

    syria, *and* it's people, have always wanted us dead. *Their* hero is russia. ask them.

    it's either 'down with the great satan' or 'save us from ourselves'. and when we do save you from the pathetic system you've supported all your lives, you end up saying *we* are the problem.

    this world has seen countless blood baths. we simply can't save everyone.

    find another hero, syria, if russia isn't working out. don't look at us.

    you've made it abundantly clear how you feel about us. the feeling is mutual.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Syrian77

      Although I don't believe the US should in any way get involved in Syria, Syrians have never said "down with the great satan" nor have they ever expressed hatred toward the US. This is pure nonsensical propaganda. Syrians oppose US policy in the region, including the current one of supporting murderous terrorists against the regime in Syria, but that doesn't mean that Syrians hate the US or Americans. It is the US that made an enemy out of Syria, not the other way around. Please tell me when any Syrian has ever harmed any American or American interest around the world. Let's stop the nonsense. The US shouldn't get involved in Syria because its involvement would be simply to destroy the country and attempt to prop up a puppet regime that will do its bidding. Syrians should be left to solve their problems on their own, away from foreign interference. As for Russia and China, Syrians do not have some unexplained affinity for the Chinese and Russians over the Americans. Simply put, certain Russian/Chinese and Syrian interests have converged and they have all worked to further those interests. The same could have happened with the US if the American government wasn't so blindly supportive of Israel.

      February 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. FRED

    we need to stay out of this its not are problem if they want to kill each other let them.

    February 15, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ak

    Are you saying the US would not deploy snipers if a pipeline or oil refinery inside the USA was under imminent threat of a terrorist bombing? To top it off this is confirmed Al-Qaeda rebels working with special-ops from Israel and the USA. How many times are Americans going to buy the same lies? This is at least the 10th time with literally millions dead.

    February 15, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Percy

    It's an election year so they are on their own - please understand. Besides the focus is on Iran now (after the election)– fact!

    February 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
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