Thursday, February 16, 2012

View from inside Baba Amr shows determination amid carnage

A rare firsthand look by an international journalist at a neighborhood that has become a symbol of the uprising in Syria revealed Wednesday impoverished and shaken residents who are facing shortages of supplies and daily attacks, yet they stand firm in their opposition to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
CNN's Arwa Damon traveled to the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, which has been targeted for at least 10 consecutive days by government forces. Shelling had struck a medical clinic at least three times, shattering the windows. Inside, critically wounded patients were lying in hospital beds tended to by two doctors -- an internist and a dentist.
The doctors said they had neither the equipment nor the expertise to help many of their patients. For example, one man would require that his leg be amputated if he were not transferred to a hospital within a day, a doctor said. The stench from the man's wound underscored the seriousness of his condition. The patient said the constant bombardment and the resulting carnage had stripped life of its meaning for him. As the man spoke, tears coursed down the doctor's cheeks.
A 30-year-old man whose brain had been pierced by shrapnel lay on the brink of death. The doctors had been able only to sew shut the wound and give him anti-clotting drugs.
Many of those who survive are taken to private homes nearby so that they can recover. Those trips can themselves be perilous, as snipers have taken up positions on rooftops in the neighborhood.
The two medical professionals are aided by 20 volunteers, each of whom has undergone 15 days of training. One of those volunteers, a young man who himself became a casualty in the shelling, died Wednesday.
"How can the world stay silent?" asked a nurse who had tried to comfort him. "They're human beings in front of us. These are not people who are made of stone."

One woman said she and her sister were wounded by shrapnel as they walked in the streets, where children could be seen on Wednesday. But many women and children have holed up in basements.
Syrian city again under siege
Still, the opposition has claimed victories too. Activists take pride in posting videos onto YouTube showing the rest of the world the conditions they are enduring. Networks of activists have set up live video streams to gain international support and have arranged for medical supplies and basic foodstuffs to be brought into the stricken neighborhood.
Traveling through Syria difficult
And activists say the number of army defectors has grown, boosting the ranks of the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) and strengthening their already fierce determination.
Still, many say they realize that the fighting could represent just the beginning of what could turn out to be a long and bloody effort to rid the nation of al-Assad. The FSA lacks the heavy weaponry that could make a dent in the government forces.
Activists held out hope for international aid, with one saying that it would likely result in a bloody conflict, but one that might end quickly. Absent such help, he predicted, fighting would take much longer and could be much bloodier.
Residents of Baba Amr were among the first in the nation to take to the streets calling for the downfall of al-Assad's regime. It has borne the weight of the crackdown in the area. FSA forces have kept government forces on the outskirts of the neighborhood, from where they have been shelling residential areas incessantly, residents said. Some predicted that, once many of the buildings are leveled, al-Assad forces will attempt to enter the neighborhood in a final, fatal sweep.
But many activists in Baba Amr predicted that if they can hold on to this symbol of the uprising, they will succeed in toppling al-Assad.
Such intimate views of life here are rare because the government has limited access to much of the country by international journalists, who have had to piece together stories from the mosaic of information gleaned from videos posted online, from telephone conversations and e-mail traffic.