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Food and Water Scarce in Embattled Syrian City of Homs

February 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: And it was another bloody weekend in Syria as government forces continued their assault on the city of Homs. Fresh troops and tanks massed on the outskirts. Elsewhere, people lined up for food, with supplies running desperately low.

And in the north Syrian town of Idlib, a senior state prosecutor and a judge were shot dead yesterday. The Syrian news agency blamed the attack on a terrorist group.

But Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News got an entirely different view from the area, as he reports.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In a small town in northern Syria, the men folk are paying their condolences to the relatives of this uprising’s latest victim.

The man, a prosecutor, was shot dead in his car yesterday on his way to work. State media claimed armed terrorists had killed him, but in his hometown, the prosecutor’s friends say the real culprits are the security forces. And they’re so frightened of being killed themselves, that nobody would talk to us openly.

MAN (through translator): Everybody, if he talked, they will take — the government will take all of his family to jail, to prison.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Locals say the prosecutor’s house was first targeted by army snipers two months ago. It was from these positions on a building site that the town was apparently terrorized before the snipers withdrew. We watched Syrian military helicopters hovering over an air base nearby.

And the fear is that it’s only a matter of time before the army returns. But if the townspeople are terrified, they are also defiant. Yesterday afternoon, they filmed the prosecutor’s funeral and posted it on the Internet.

“We’re not afraid of snipers and tanks,” they chanted. “We will answer this death with revenge.”

And this is just one of so many Syrian towns radicalized by state terror. This man told us he’d been shot twice in the leg for demonstrating against the regime, while his friend says he was tortured for the same offense.

His name is Hassan. And he says he only got home yesterday after almost three months in jail, his eyes reddened, he says, by being granted just one hour’s sleep a night, his neck and arms scorched with burning cigarettes.

“We were packed 120 prisoners to a room,” he told me. “I was only released because the jail was overflowing.”

What’s been most striking about our time here is that this uprising has clearly spread to the remotest parts of this country. State brutality has failed to crush it.

MARGARET WARNER: And, today, the International Committee of the Red Cross called for a two-hour cease-fire on both sides to create a window for delivering medical supplies and aid to civilians.