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Homs: City Under Siege

Aired January 14, 2012 - 22:30   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Don Lemon. Right now, a CNN special program.

A journalist recently went under cover for six harrowing days in Homs, Syria. It's a city at the center of a crisis. A city that's become a battle zone between rebels and government forces. The stories are of living, of fighting, and of dying. A CNN special presentation, HOMS: CITY UNDER SIEGE begins right now.


DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the ugly cold reality of Syria's revolution.


RIVERS: A daily exchange of sniper fire, the desperate run for cover, the mundane routines that somehow survive the violence.

This program will take you to the heart of the uprising, to the shattered city of Homs, a traditional bastion of opposition to the Assad family, to explore the mosaic of hardship, resistance and death which has splintered this country and its people.

This is the story of a journalist who dared to go undercover in Homs on the front line of Syria's uprising. He must remain anonymous for his own safety.

The journalist, whose voice you will hear, visited a neighborhood in the north of the city, called Khalediyah, which is under constant attack from Bashar al-Assad's army.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST (voice-over): The activists brought me to this building. It took me a while to appreciate what was happening.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: To understand where the snipers of the regime are and to see where I have to hide and where it's better to run. Through this hole, the snipers of the Free Syrian Army have been trying for a couple of hours to shoot the snipers at the other part of the building a couple of hundred meters away.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: I couldn't stay the entire battle, because the activists asked me to leave in order to be safe. I figured out later, they did kill the sniper of the Assad army.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are here surrounded from all directions by snipers and security services. Every time there is a demonstration, they come and shoot at us, cut the power and water supplies. There is no coverage, no diesel.

We cover our faces because if we expose ourselves, they're going to arrest our families, abduct the girls and there will be an awful lot of suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: I came to this junction and I realized that somebody wanted to cross the street with a huge bag of cigarettes. I could hear the snipers shooting. He wasn't able to cross the street.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There is a main road which we cannot cross because of the snipers. Anyone who crosses it, women, children, men, elderly, they will not be spared. Yesterday, even by car we wouldn't dare cross it.

Now I am stuck here, I can't cross over to go home, so I will have to sleep here. There are no places to sleep, where can I sleep? In order to eat, to drink, we need to go out in the street. Are we going to be imprisoned in our home with no electricity, no water, and no food?

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: These neighborhoods are totally depending on how much they can smuggle inside the city. There have been days people have been telling me where they did not have bread. So every time they're able to have a normal day, where the bakery is running well, they would go there and buy as much as possible.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There is a power cut. No water. We can't use the telephone. There is also a shortage of food. And to buy bread, you may have to queue up for three hours. UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: One of the biggest problems right now is the winter. It's getting very cold, especially in Homs. Every night the temperatures are falling below freezing, and the people are not able to heat their houses because there is no oil. So they started to cut off the trees in order to have firewood to heat and to get a little bit warmer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is for heating. We have no gas, no electricity, and no diesel. And telephones are disconnected. So what can we do? We have to cut wood for the heating.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): These are your reforms Mr. Assad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We don't want Bashar, we don't want him. We're not eating, we're not drinking. There is no hope for our kids.

We don't have any diesel, we have no electricity. The children have no hope. We hardly have any bread to feed our children.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: It was very difficult to understand how people could survive here. Why not everybody's leaving? But I realized that not everybody has a safe haven. Not everybody knows somebody in the countryside where they can go with their entire family to be safer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The army is killing us. They keep kidnapping people and killing them. Snipers you find them wherever you go. Wherever you go, snipers are planted there.

I know some people, and I'm going to them. They gave us a house to stay in.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: My days in Khalediyah have been the most frightening for me in the entire trip.

RIVERS: For all the hardship, they remain defiant. For the people of Homs, it's too late to stop. Resistance is their only path now.

CROWD (singing, through translator): Homs will never bow down.




TEXT: Homs: City Under Siege

UNIDENTIFIED JOURANLIST (voice-over): I went into Syria for six days into the heart of the revolution and the uprising in the city of Homs. At the beginning of my trip, I had this clear show of the strength of the Syrian army. A convoy of 45 tanks being transported by trucks towards the city.

RIVERS (voice-over): The journalist we're following traveled a few kilometers from the urban warfare of Khalediyah in Homs to the neighborhood of Baba Amr, one of the first areas to be liberated by the Free Syrian Army.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: When I first went into Baba Amr, I saw these two bodies laying on the street. The activists told me that the secret service kidnapped the two guys, tortured them, killed them, and threw them out on the street.

Apparently this was the way to frighten the neighborhood. People would not be able to get close to them nor pick them up to bring them to the cemetery because they would get shot.

They drove slowly, and I could see the destruction on the -- on the walls. You could see the garbage piling up. It's kind of a siege of a neighborhood. 50,000 people are living in this area, secured by the Free Syrian Army

IBRAHIM HARMOUSH, DEFECTED SOLDIER (through translator): We are here in order to protect this area. The Assad army is in this area, and it's about 25 to 30 meters away with their tanks and all their equipment. We protect this street or they kill everybody, both young and old.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: I asked the activists to bring me to the streets where the snipers are aiming basically on everything which is moving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): In the halls of residence at the university, there are snipers, and there are other snipers in the towers in the tops of houses. There are about 50 snipers.

They shoot at civilians, at homes, in the streets, women, children. They don't spare anybody. Even cars passing by. Every day we have about four martyrs and 20 casualties.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: The activists would -- have been telling me, "Don't run. Don't make any move which is suspicious, just keep on walking." And I could literally feel the sniper aiming on my head and it was up to him if he was going to pull the trigger or not. I had to cross the same roads where others have been killed a couple of hours before.



UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: After the prayers, the people started to go straight to the demonstration.

CROWD (chanting, through translator): Death rather than humiliation, and we will humiliate al-Asaad! Death rather than humiliation, and we will humiliate al-Assad!

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: I've seen these kids, entire families coming to the demonstration singing songs against the regime.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: I didn't see any kind of fear, it was almost like a party. This was the clearest moment of liberty I've seen. People are able to sing songs they have never been able to sing before.

CROWD (singing, through translator): Freedom forever, despite you Assad!

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: I went to this rooftop to film people dancing in the demonstration and then, suddenly I realized that they have been chanting and cheering a guy standing there at the other rooftop in front of the street.

It turned out o be Abdul Razaq Tlas who is not only one of the first officers defecting from the Syrian army, it is the nephew of the former Defense Minister of the regime.

ABDUL RAZAQ TLAS (through translator): The Free Army is protecting the people and demonstrators as well as confronting the thug gangsters and security services.

CHILDREN (through translator): Abdul Razaq, may God protect him. Abdul Razaq, may God protect him.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Everybody was -- the entire neighborhood came praying for him and cheering for him and his soldiers.

TLAS (through translator): The army's role is to protect the people and civilians in accordance with our oath. But the orders we were receiving were in violation of that. As a result of the actions and violations by the members of the security services and the army, I defected on the 2nd of June, 2011.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: The defected soldiers have been telling me, "Although we don't have a lot weapons, but our biggest weapon is our motivation."


TLAS (through translator): We are in contact with soldiers who are in the army. They tell us a no-fly zone is essential to prevent them from getting bombed if they defect.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: At night, they search everyone entering and leaving the area to stop government death squads, the so-called Shabia (ph), from getting in. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The street you see over there is controlled by the secret service. They're known to kidnap our women and children. We try to prevent this. When strangers come here, we stop and search them.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURANLIST: The revolution started to create legends and heroes, and a lot of those heroes are the singers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing, through translator): Ben Ali flew from Tunisia. Ali Saleh is burned by fire. Mubarak is in court, and Moammar was killed by the revolutionaries.


CROWD (singing, through translator): You will soon be next Bashar! You will soon be next Bashar!

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: This is Mohammed . He is a poet, he is a singer of the demonstration.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: At this night demonstration, I could see women and children coming out to the street to express their opposition against the regime


CROWD (chanting, through translator): Traitor! Traitor! Traitor! The Syrian army is a traitor!

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: So, the demonstrations are now a daily part of their life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The longer the revolution lasts, the more energetic we become. I am 42 years old, and I feel like I'm 20. The longer it continues the more active we become.

God is with us, and we are reliant on him to get rid of the regime. We want freedom for our children before us, we are fighting for God, for our children, and lastly, for ourselves.

RIVERS: While these spirited demonstrations are going on, elsewhere in the city, the killings continue. People fearing, hoping, praying help will come soon.





TEXT: Homs: City Under Siege

RIVERS (voice-over): We've already seen the hardship and resistance on the streets of Homs in the neighborhoods of Khalediyah and Baba Amr, but just outside the city is the village of Dab Al Kabeer, where Bashar al-Assad's troops aren't deployed in great numbers but can still strike with deadly force.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST (voice-over): I asked the activists to take me to where the injured people would get treated by doctors who are risking their lives. When we got to the makeshift hospital, I realized it was a normal flat with an emergency room and with intensive care. They had a pharmacy and a laboratory

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This patient, who was injured by multiple shrapnel all over his body resulting from a nail bomb.

He also received a more severe and dangerous injury which broke his skull and caused a hemorrhage.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Activists told me that anyone who is injured in this neighborhood are not able to go to a public hospital, because those hospitals are infiltrated by agents of the regime, and they would get either kidnapped or even killed inside the clinics

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): In our home fridges, we keep what can help us to provide aid for those poor, injured people.

These are tetanus injections that we use, and these are some of the blood bags we use in transfusions for the wounded and injured.

These are different types we use, in addition to some other drugs that must be kept refrigerated, as well as our food and drink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Long live Syrian, and down with Bashar al-Assad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If we do not survive it the fighting, and if we are not destined to survive it through martyrdom, arrest, torture, or harassment, our children will win, and they will pay tribute to us.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: A family member of an activist got killed, and we decided to go to his funeral

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Malik was driving his car together with his friends, he was stopped at a checkpoint in Bayada. Their identities were checked, they searched them and let them go. They waited for them to walk away, and then they killed them.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Outside, the entire village was waiting for the family coming out with the coffin.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): By God, we will hold anyone accountable who is oppressing us, all of them! We know the officers who are giving the orders. We know all of them!


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: This funeral procession became more and more a demonstration where they expressed outrage against the regime


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Among all these mourners was Malik's distraught little brother.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: In many other urban neighborhoods as in Khalediyah, these kinds of large funeral processions are not possible. Activists feel it's part of the Assad regime's policy to deny dignity to the dead and their family members.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They shot her near the roundabout. Her brother was two streets away. About half an hour later he, together with the neighbors, started to cross over the roofs of the houses until they managed to get to her and they recovered her body.

About half an hour later, they brought her here to my home because right at that spot, we couldn't reach her, we couldn't have a funeral or bury her. We still cannot bury her.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: The Assad troops would immediately shoot on these funeral procession. That's why just four people are going with the coffin to the cemetery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The martyr, Khaled el Boidani. He went to buy bread, and he was killed by a sniper from the Assad thugs.

He was asking for freedom, nothing more. He was just asking for freedom.

RIVERS: Each fresh grave tells story of another family plunged into grief. The UN estimates 5,000 have died in the uprising so far. How many more families will be bereft in Syria's growing cemeteries, mourning the innocent victims of the Assad regime?