Blood and tears in Syrian city as attack continues
Homs, in Syria, has been under attack for nearly a week, as troops loyal to President Assad launch rockets and shells into rebel-held areas. As casualties mount, tragic stories emerge.
Homs is a city under siege. Most lines of communication have long since been cut by government forces – but eyewitness accounts continue to emerge. The story they tell is one of courage, horror and despair.
Muhammad al Muhammad weeps into the camera. On the hospital bed in front of him is a baby, born two months premature. It stirs weakly. Soon, says the doctor, it will die for lack of medical care.
Earlier, he was tending to five young girls from the same family, caught in the same explosion. They lay in a row, silent, limp and wide-eyed, covered in dust and blood. Only the youngest was alive enough to scream.
Now, al Muhammad cries because there is nothing he can do. A few days ago one of the last working clinics took a direct hit. Every hour, more bodies are brought in. The remaining doctors and nurses have not slept in days. They are overwhelmed.
Until he escaped on Wednesday, the BBC’s Paul Wood was the only foreign journalist in Homs. Smuggled through the lines by rebel fighters, he spent days enduring the bombardment to report on conditions on the ground.
He found a scene of devastation and ‘hysteria’, where the psychological impact of the shelling was taking a dramatic toll. Families were crowded into basements, afraid to go outside. One man went to find bread, as supplies ran low. All he found was a sniper’s bullet.
Later, Wood interviewed a man whose business was wrapping bodies for burial. Had he been affected by the shelling? Yes, the man replied. He had wrapped the bodies of his uncle, his cousin and his son.
British citizen Danny Abdul Dayem has also seen more than his share of death since he came to Homs. Pointing at the shattered remains of a burning house, he says ‘this is the life we’ve got used to: rockets, bullets, killing children dead in the streets, body parts. Why is no one helping us?’
The shells start coming at 5am, he says, and do not stop. As he speaks, a heavy machine gun opens up somewhere nearby. ‘Where’s America,’ he asks? ‘Are we animals dying here?’
What, he asks in another clip, is the world waiting for? ‘Till they kill all the children, kill all the women?’ Beside him lies the corpse of a two-year-old boy.
The price of resistance
Homs has been brave to stand up to the government of Bashar al Assad. He is a tyrant who has oppressed his people for years, as his father did before him. In the excitement of the Arab Spring, Syrians saw a chance to strike for freedom – and they took it.
Now, the future of that bold uprising is in doubt. Protests have turned violent. The regime has turned even more brutal. Thousands are dead, and worse may be to come. Some will inevitably ask: is freedom worth the price?
- Opposing Syria’s dictator has cost thousands of lives. Was it worth it?
- Some say the Syrian opposition has made things worse by using weapons to fight back. Is armed resistance legitimate?
- Write a letter to one of the people featured in this story, responding to their situation.
- Imagine you were a war reporter in another war from history and create a news dispatch from the scene.
Some People Say...
“Better to live a slave than die free.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- The world is full of suffering. Why so much focus on this?
- Two reasons. First, it’s rare for a government to use such open brutality against its own citizens. Second, this crisis has the full attention of the international community. Bloodshed in Homs could have consequences far beyond Syria.
- Why’s that?
- The Syrian conflict could become a ‘proxy war’, where some countries (like Russia and Iran) support the government while others (like the US and Saudi Arabia) support the rebels. If the uprising becomes a long civil war, the whole world could get involved.
- Homs is a large and ancient city in southwestern Syria. Originally known as Emesa, it was founded in the 1st Century BC and survived invasions by Romans, Arabs, Persians, Crusaders and Turks to become a rich and multicultural city. Its ethnic divisions, however, are becoming ever more tense as the Syrian uprising continues.
- Medical care
- To survive, premature babies need special beds called ‘incubators’. These need power to work. Horrifying reports from Homs suggest that as many as 18 premature babies may have died in a single ward when power to the hospital was cut during the bombardment.
- Rebel fighters
- Armed resistance to the Syrian government is coming from a group called the Free Syrian Army, made up of army deserters, veteran insurgents (often from Iraq) and Islamist hardliners.
- His father
- President Bashar al Assad came to power following the death of his father Hafez al Assad. In 1982, Hafez used tanks and soldiers to kill around 10,000 people in the city of Hama, during an uprising. The people of Homs will be hoping history does not repeat itself.