Skip to main content

On the ground in Syria: 'For God's sake, this is too much'

By Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 2:42 PM EST, Tue February 7, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "Everyone's becoming used to death here," an activist in Homs says
  • Syrians endure a hellish existence amid government's crackdown
  • Images shot by activists paint a starkly different picture than official government accounts
  • "We are getting killed every moment," an activist says

(CNN) -- A low-slung skyline. A slate gray sky. Rumbling. Close your eyes. It could be the sound of rolling thunder.

Instead, it's another shell falling on a neighborhood in Homs.

Photos: Slaughter in Syria

"You don't know if the rocket is going to come in your living room or in your kitchen," said an activist who is being identified only as Danny for his safety. "Everyone's becoming used to death here."

Blood, he says, has become almost as commonplace as water. Still, the scenes are almost unbelievable.

Activists: Homs under heavy bombardment
Ex-U.S. envoy: Syria already in civil war
More bloodshed in Syria
Homs resident: 'Please someone help us'

"I saw really horrible things I've never seen in my life," he said. "Kids in the hospital, a kid with his whole jaw gone. a little girl, a kid, she's 4 years old, she's dead, her sister's 6 years old, she lost her left eye and her mother is in intensive care."

As the world talks about how to respond to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's bloody crackdown on the uprising in his country, opposition activists in the country say his military and security services are engaged in a vicious campaign of destruction meant to wipe out the opposition. Almost nothing, it seems, is off limits, they say -- not shelling, not snipers, not torture.

To hear al-Assad tell it, the violence is the work of terrorists, and his troops are martyrs to the state's effort to secure peace. But eyewitness accounts and videos streaming out of Syria on the Internet paint a starkly different picture.

Syrian rebel leadership is split

Where state television shows the Syrian president surrounded by clerics in a peaceful prayer, opposition video shows an injured man being hustled into a makeshift medical clinic from the back of a bloody pickup truck, mothers crying in the street.

Opinion: Al-Assad missed chance to reform Syria

Where official images depict a cheering crowd waving Syrian and Russian flags during a visit from the Russian foreign minister, opposition video shows crowds of apparently unarmed civilians running through the streets in terror from explosions that blacken and bloody the streets.

And where the state-run SANA news agency says armed terrorist gangs are to blame for the violence, activists point to images of children, their bodies studded by shrapnel, running fearfully in rubble-strewn streets or asking, from under thick bandages enveloping a tiny head, what they've done to deserve such violence.

Rocket attacks, blood in the streets and fight for freedom

In one video shot by activists, a man cradles the lifeless body of a child.

Smoke rises from a shelled building. Gunfire and explosions echo through the streets.

Possible options to end Syria violence
Syrian activists blaming Russia
China's view of the Syria crisis
Activist: We are killed every moment

Not even the makeshift clinics where people try to help horribly injured civilians are safe.

"They hit one of our field hospitals yesterday," the activist identified as Danny told CNN on Monday. "The doctors died, the patients died."

Snipers and tanks from the Syrian armed forces -- at nearly 400,000 strong, according to the U.S. State Department, one of the largest in the Middle East -- stalk the streets. Barricades keep their quarry from freely moving, according to activists who say day-and-night shelling often hits residential neighborhoods.

Homs is not the only target. Troops raided Daraa in April, shortly after the uprising began, according to Syrian opposition groups. They shot indiscriminately, sometimes into homes, opposition activists have said.

Significant numbers of deaths have also been reported in Damascus and its suburbs, as well as Deir Ezzor, Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, and Hama.

Throughout the country, government forces have taken over schools and hospitals to use as detention centers and sniper nests, Human Rights Watch reported this week. A father told investigators he stopped allowing his 10-year-old son attend school because of snipers targeting travelers on the road leading to school.

"We called it 'the street of death'," Human Rights Watch quoted the man as saying.

Human rights groups also say security forces have taken and tortured children.

"Children have not been spared the horror of Syria's crackdown. 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.

One former adult detainee said security forces seem to target children for special abuse.

"There is torture, but there is also rape for the boys," Human Rights Watch quoted the man as saying. "We would see them when the guards brought them back to the cell, it's indescribable, you can't talk about it."

While many suffer in detention centers, even more suffer in formerly peaceful neighborhoods.

In a video shot Monday, a man perched on an urban rooftop in Homs nervously chants Allāhu Akbar -- "God is great" -- as shells fall on buildings around him.

Activists say 128 people died in the attack.

"We are getting killed every moment," a Syrian resident identified only as Zaidoun for his safety told CNN. "We are not able even just to get some basic medicine to injured people. Children are really hungry. I swear, children are hungry. No power, no fuel. It's too cold."

CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports from Syria because the government has restricted journalists' access to the country.

But Western governments and human rights groups say there's little doubt about the carnage being inflicted by Syrian forces.

The United Nations estimates that at least 6,000 people have died since the violence began nearly a year ago. So far, nothing has stopped the death and suffering.

"It's too much," Zaidoun said, his voice breaking. "For God's sake, this is too much."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
As a 10-year-old, this boy first hit the headlines in 1982 when he saved his cat from a fire. This year, he was reported to be a suicide bomber.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Aqsa Mahmood,19, would listen to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books. Then this Glasgow girl became an ISIS bride.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
updated 12:22 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT