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Grief, fear constant as Syrian families take shelter

By Arwa Damon, CNN
updated 1:10 PM EST, Mon February 20, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Women and children huddle in a makeshift shelter as the Syrian government shells city of Homs
  • "The children are always crying; the bombs are coming down," one mother says
  • "What is the world waiting for?" another demands as her son cries for his dead father

Homs, Syria (CNN) -- Dark-haired and swaddled in a white blanket, baby Fatime is just 24 hours old, the picture of innocence in her grandmother's arms.

But the world she has been born into is anything but innocent.

Her mother gave birth to her in a makeshift shelter in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, the heart of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Her mother, 19, has no painkillers and could not sleep after giving birth, she said, still in excruciating pain.

Fatime's father does not know his child has been born -- a month ago, he left the wood-cutting factory that has been turned into a makeshift bunker. He was going for supplies and has not been able to return, his wife says.

Fatime's father may live to see her, but two great-uncles will not, her grandmother says. Both men were detained and returned as mutilated corpses.

As she describes what happened to one of her brothers, her voice trembling, the grandmother grabs her head, wrapped in a black headscarf, and twists it to suggest a neck being broken.

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Walking through a deserted Homs

She shows a photograph of the battered body of her other brother, the state of the corpse horrific.

Baby Fatime is one of at least two dozen children holed up with mothers, grandmothers and other relatives in this makeshift shelter in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr.

Government forces have been shelling Homs since early February.

The families in the shelter have found relative safety but little comfort.

"We're not sleeping at night, we're not sleeping during the day," one mother howls, clad head to toe in black with her face covered by a niqab, an Islamic veil showing only her eyes.

"The children are always crying; the bombs are coming down like this," she laments, waving her arms for emphasis.

They huddle in near darkness, some covering their faces as they speak to me, afraid of losing more than they already have if the government learns who they are.

The room is filled with endless stories of death and despair.

One woman says her son has been detained since the end of August. Another says her son also has been held a month and a half.

A woman named Safaa says her brother and husband were killed when a round hit their home 10 days ago, but she can hardly pause to grieve.

"I have to keep going," she says. "I have to live for my children."

The families in the shelter survive on rice and lentils taken from a nearby government warehouse, but supplies are running low.

Activists gather about two dozen children for the camera and lead a song against the regime.

But the little ones are hard to comfort.

"My husband died on the first day of the bombing. They didn't let me see his body; it was shredded to pieces. His blood is still in the streets," says Umm Khidir, one of the mothers.

But her focus now is on her son. She says he is sick with a fever, and there's no medicine.

"He keeps crying and saying, 'I want daddy, I want daddy.' I can't bring his daddy back," she says, demanding to know why the world is not coming to their aid. "What is the world waiting for? For us to die of hunger and fear?"

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