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. Mark

    With past conflicts I've usually given CNN the benefit of the doubt regarding being balanced in their reporting but this time CNN seems to be laying it on thick, bordering on bonafide propaganda.

    February 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Percy

      Yes, you are correct 😉

      February 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Fairreporter

    How come CNN does not report on Israel's slaughter of the Palestinians. You think this is bad? ISRAEL is much worse! CNN is so pumped up about covering the events in Syria, yet they don't cover the continuous slaughter and humanitarian abuses against the palestinians. CNN should cover Israel's crimes on a daily basis just as much as they do cover the events in Syria. How about Saudi Arabia? How about Bahrain – we provide them weapons to do the same as what is going on in Syria, however, we conveniently avoid reporting about that because they are allies...Please! CNN is not the world leader in news...very very very biased!

    February 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • rob2tall

      no oil in Israel that I am aware of...and Israel is old news

      February 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sharkfisher

      You have got to be brain dead or a muslim propaganda machine.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • RickV

      This is the only story where we hear about the J'hadis living in fear and being terrorized. I would like more stories of their suffering, please. We owe them, so we won't help. Glad to hear the Al Qaeda guy send the last of his varmints in to die, saves work for the "mopping up" we'll have to do later.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. leeintulsa

    this was a reply to someone, allegedly an iraqi, talking about the benefits.. or more accurately, penalties.. of america intervening with the best intentions.

    it was beautiful. then it was gone..

    February 15, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1kureckert

      half-Iraqi; half Turkish – Alhamdulilah!

      They took down the post that said in response to another named Jack who asked if I lived ever in Syria: "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..."

      I stand by what I say as I see too many fools who never been to the places that America so easily bombs and who have no clue on what it means to be the people who live in those places. Most Americans can't bridge the (empathy) gap of Red (Republican) versus Blue (Democratic), yet the freedom of speech gives them the right to prove their ignorance to those who, through real life experience, know the nuances of situations that the ignorant only see in black and white. America is a wonderful place, but it's not perfect and it should not intervene in Syria. America will only make it worse. Sure, it will look good on tv for a couple weeks or months and make "enlightened" Americans feel good they "helped." Then, the survivors of American "intervention" will get to suffer in obscurity and the wound, now opened, gets to fester in the dark....

      February 16, 2012 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  4. rob2tall

    Why NATO waits is a mystery to me-all that armor sitting out in the open just asking for a few F16s to drop in to eliminate them or a barrage of Apache AH64 and Longbows, Little Boys etc to swoop in and wipe Syria's tanks out

    February 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. lincoln

    i would have though that NATO would be taking out those arty positions.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. German

    I was born in EL Salvador and I lived 12 years of civil war. We lived our lifes one day at a time. We didn't know if there was tomorrow. We didn't know if I was coming back home in the after noon after work. Every day on my work I saw human remains on the street mutilated and the saddest dead childrens some with school uniform... I escaped several times from being kill .....

    February 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sharkfisher

    We heard the same B/S. coming out of Libya and check out what is happening there.The people in Libya were better off under Gadahfi. The REBELS in Syria DONOT want a democracy or freedom. They want to shift power.Nothing more.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sharkfisher

    They delt with Gadhfi in Libya and the people are worse off now.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    Why don't they come to California?

    February 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. GiuseppeB

    Fake story again, Arwa Damon is sitting in a hotel in Tel Aviv

    February 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tankedoc

    well…if we go in we get called ogres etc. as we have in every middle east conflict. If we sit it out, we are cowards etc., we have to decide if we are willing to intervene or just sit back and watch. Our choice….the poor people of Homs await.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. GiuseppeB

    The Syrian rebels are the al-Qaeda, and Assad is in alliance with Iran, either way they don't like the USA so we should stay out. CNN should stop posting fake stories.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • hez316

      Yes, I'm sure they dreamed it up.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • rob2tall

      its not fake nor are you real

      February 15, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tankedoc

    what about the women and little kids in Homs

    February 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Alfredo

    CNN, BBC AL Jazeera, AP and about two hundred other media outlets are reporting the same thing. Assad like his father is murdering thousands of innocent civilian Syrians. You know why hundreds are reporting the same thing? Because it's actually happening. CNN like the rest is reporting facts, if you can't handle the fact that Assad and his family are mass murderers of Syrians, it's your problem...

    February 15, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. casey

    Six Delta boys. One dictator down. Problem solved.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
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