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Syrian City Still Under Siege

Aired February 24, 2012 - 16:00:00   ET



The true horror of Homs.

We take you inside a city where minute by minute the bullets fly, the blood flows and misery ensured.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London. This is CONNECT THE WORLD with Becky Anderson.

ANDERSON: As world leader calls for an immediate ceasefire, we're going to show you why there is no time to waste.

Also tonight as the U.N. raises fresh concerns about Iran, it's nuclear ambassador tells me his country has nothing to hide.

And friendly rivalry or fierce competition, the Hollywood stars goes head to head at the Oscars.

What is every day life like in a Syrian city under siege? Well, you are about to find out. In a remarkable piece compiled in Homs by a French photojournalist that I'm calling Mani. He went straight into the heart of combat that's been raging there for three weeks. Mani's powerful footages call the battle of Homs. It's narrated by reporter Jonathan Miller and contains images some viewers may find disturbing.


JONATHAN MILLER, REPORTER (voice-over): They call Homs the capital of the revolution. The revolt against President Bashar al-Assad has been going on for nearly a year but on Friday, the 3rd of February, his forces unleashed a ferocious bombardment of residential neighborhoods in Homs.

A little girl and her brother, both badly wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): After crossing the road, the shell hit us. I fell down on the ground. But my cousin was still awake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What about you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After that I don't know what happened.

When I woke up I was here. That's all.

MILLER: No one can bear to tell her that her father and youngest brother are dead.

We're in (INAUDIBLE) district. It's 10 in the morning and fighters from the Free Syrian Army are engaged in a gun battle that started at 3:30 a.m.. As they wait, the (INAUDIBLE) was broadcasting a eulogy for a dead fighter, a martyr.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Guys move! Get out of the way!

MILLER: A tense but momentary lull. Then it starts all over again.

They're attacking the government security building across the road, headquarters of the hated (INAUDIBLE) secret police.

Mani, the filmmaker finds himself at the heart of the firefight.

Urban guerilla warfare like this is relentless and terrifying, the fighters appear fearless and take crazy risks. But they still find time to look out for Mani.

(INAUDIBLE) district, right next to (INAUDIBLE), two days earlier. Residents pour on to the streets to mourn 138 people killed overnight by government shelling.

There aren't enough coffins for all those been killed so men are simply wrapped in white shrouds.

The atmosphere is highly charged. An imam lead prayers for the dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We pray for our martyred friend. Shelling people is what cowards and scoundrels do. Be careful of gathering in public.

We are going to heaven! There are millions of us!

MILLER: Back at Muhabarat headquarters, the battle is raging. Free Syrian forces have detonated a bomb below the rooftop position where government snipers are trapped.

After more than 12 hours, the snipers are still putting up a fight.

Casualties are mounting.

A mini bus ambulance at a break neck race to a make shift field hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Where are all the beds?

MILLER: There's little dignity in all these.

Friday is protest day. It's almost a carnival atmosphere. But it's a carnival of defiance as the people of Homs tell their president what they think of him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Bashar! You are an oppressor!

MILLER: Mothers, children, fathers, and fighters, this mass of humanity dances for its (INAUDIBLE) it's freedom. An unstoppable energy battling a seemingly immovable force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A revolution of dignity and freedom!

MILLER: Free Syrian fighters have entered the government security building.

It's room to room fighting now. Stairwell to stairwell.

It's a humiliation for President Assad. With bullets still flying, fighters make off with boxes of much need ammo.

The morning after - the Muhabarat secret police building is being gutted as as the local post office.

Down the street is a long queue for bread. With parts of the city besiege, you can no longer get to shops and neighboring districts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The citizens are hungry for bread. This is the only bakery in the area. Because of the snipers people are taking more than they need.

This is why it's crowded.

MILLER: A couple of blocks away, (INAUDIBLE) district, where many belong to the president's (INAUDIBLE) sect, they have not been attacked.

Homs now patchwork diving along sectarian lines.

This hallway is how far as Suni Muslims can go. For them, one step into the street and they're in sniper alley.

This woman has just learned that her son, Faddi (ph), has been shot by a sniper there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He is my son... my rock. I have no man... he is my man.

MILLER: Faddi (ph) used to support the regime. The tattoo on his chest says Assad, Syria. But it was a bullet from one of al-Assad's snipers that killed him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Who is he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Uncle Salah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Where is he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He is martyr.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): How did he die?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He was filming the demonstrations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The snipers, who have no fear of God, killed him. He was trying to get his sister back home. It's injustice.


ANDERSON: Powerful footage there from Homs, amid reports another 91 people were killed across Syria today.

Well now, at least wounded women and children are finally getting out of that city. The Red Crescent started evacuation late on Friday. We know of seven people moved from Baba Amr neighborhood to a hospital in the outskirts of the city.

Well, earlier the friends of Syria conference convened in Tunisia. In a moment, I'm going to speak to World Affairs reporter Elise Labott live from Tunis. First so, let's take a listen to what U.S. President Barack Obama had to say just moments ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to say that all of us who have been seeing the terrible pictures coming out of Syria and Homs recently, recognize it is absolutely imperative for the international community to rally and send a clear message to President Assad that it's time for a transition, it's time for that regime to move on and it's the right time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government. And I'm encouraged by the international unity that we are developing. The meeting that took place in Tunisia that Secretary Clinton had attended and we are going to continue to keep the pressure up and look for every tool available to prevent the slaughter of innocents in Syria.


ANDERSON: All right. Well, we are live now in Tunis. Elise Labott with us there. (INAUDIBLE) Elise, this meeting was called to place a "tsunami wave of pressure" on Bashar al-Assad. What was the outcome?

ELISE LABOTT, WORLD AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Becky, a few things, first of all, trying to get that just really needed emergency aid into Syria. The Friends of Syria came out with a kind of concrete plan for getting the aid in. They said "Listen, the challenge is not the aid, there's a lot of aid stockpiled on the border, bordering countries, it's getting Bashar al-Assad to give permission to get that aid in." And so the most important thing is getting Russia to use their influence to get the aid in.

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton today say it is really imperative for the supporters of Bashar al-Assad to understand that his days are numbered and this brutality of his regime can't go on any longer. Let's listen to what she said.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Our goal is to bring as much pressure to bear as we can not only on Assad but on those around him. I said in my statement, I spoke directly to those who are supporting Assad, including members of his security forces - they're continuing to kill their brothers and sisters is a stain on their honor. Their refusal to continue this slaughter will make them heroes in the eyes of not only Syrians but people of conscience every where. They can help the guns fall silent.


LABOTT: So Becky, try to peel away that layer of support in the regime, in the military, in the police, in the family for Bashar al-Assad to say "Look, it's a losing game. You should think about the new Syria. Don't get left behind - they also made a step in recognizing the Syrian national council as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people saying they're not the only one trying to get a free Syria. The only opposition, certainly the only ones that the international community can talk to right now because those groups inside Syria cannot communicate with themselves let alone the outside world.

ANDERSON: Elise, I know there's a lot of talk of more forceful intervention in Syria as well, who led those calls?

LABOTT: Well, I would say the Saudi foreign minister. They gave a very impassioned speech saying "Listen, what good does it to feed the people if we're just leaving them there for Bashar al-Assad to kill them." He said that arming the opposition would be an excellent idea because they need to defend themselves." The (INAUDIBLE) spoke to the group and said "Listen, we need the means to defend ourselves. We 're not asking for military intervention but we certainly are asking for the means to defend ourselves." A lot of countries here on the (INAUDIBLE) talking about the need to provide arms. I don't think you're going to see that from the United States but there is some talk about some non-lethal assistance such as providing them with secured communications, radio communications, training so that they can better communicate with each other and stand (INAUDIBLE) that could compete with Bashar al-Assad. I think they'll look the other way to other countries that want to arm them.

ANDERSON: All right. Elise, stay with me for the moment. I (INAUDIBLE) to see just what sort of challenges are facing Syria's opposition when we hear these talks about the possibility of arming, of providing further arms to the Free Syria Army.

Zain Verjee explains now why it's an uphill battle for opposition forces.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As opposition forces continue to battle Syria's army, it's anything but an equal fight. More like David versus Goliath. Syria's military is formidable, close to 300,000 strong, including 200,000 in the Army alone and it's extremely well armed with a full range of ground weapons including nearly 5,000 Soviet designed battle tanks and armored vehicles.

Experts say Syria also has a sophisticated air defense system and 35,000 Air force personnel, compare that to the Free Syrian Army and the contrast is stark.

Fledgling opposition force only announce itself in a YouTube video last July. They claimed to have a force of some 10,000 -