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Syrian Rebels Pull Back From Besieged City of Homs

March 1, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Rebels fighting the Syrian military were forced to give way today, in the face of an unrelenting siege. Fighters in the heavily damaged city of Homs said they were pulling back from the district of Baba Amr. Some 100,000 people once lived there, but that was before a month-long bombardment by President Assad’s army.

We have a report narrated by Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: After 26 days and government firepower like this, the siege of Homs’ most rebellious district appears to be ending.

Yesterday one activist filmed Syrian troops apparently withdrawing from Baba Amr. But, today, they have reportedly advanced., and the ultimate symbol of Syria’s resistance can resist no longer. And this is the appalling aftermath broadcast by state television, part winter snow scene, part apocalyptic vision, entire streets seemingly pounded into submission, shattered and shelled buildings everywhere the camera looks.

Residents were shown blaming militants for destroying houses and terrorizing civilians. But one activist told me that government forces continued attacking, as he and other civilians escaped from Baba Amr this morning.

OPPOSITION ACTIVIST: The regime army, or al-Assad militias, as we call them, they’re trying to kill us, not escort us, to secure us. They were killing us. They were bombing us. It was, you know, an extremely dangerous journey, because the bombardment was still going on.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: More tanks have been filmed heading into the Baba Amr area from the Damascus highway. And it’s no wonder the Free Syrian Army has withdrawn from the district for now.

In a statement on Facebook, the fighters said it was a tactical retreat on behalf of about 4,000 residents lacking food, medicine, electricity and water.

And running water is so short, the residents have been melting snow to drink that instead.

“We have no one to support us, other than Allah,” they sing, though tomorrow that could change. The Syrian Red Crescent and International Committee of the Red Cross say the government’s given them permission to enter Baba Amr on Friday, taking in humanitarian aid and evacuating civilians.

Yet, in the surrounding countryside, this conflict isn’t over. And the fear is that, as the regime advances against these fighters, it will exact brutal revenge.

“Look at me, daddy, answer me, daddy,” these sons are filmed telling their dead father. It’s an activist video. And even if journalists can’t safely report on the full horror of what happened here, those who have suffered are still trying.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman predicted the Syrian people will not give in, despite their suffering.

He spoke at a Senate hearing.

JEFFREY FELTMAN, assistant U.S. secretary of state: Today’s reports from Homs are truly alarming. Large numbers of Syrians are living every day under siege, deprived of basic necessities, including food, clean water and medical supplies.

Women and children are wounded and dying for lack of treatment. Innocent people are detained and tortured, and their families left to fear the worst. Yet, despite the regime’s brutality, the people of Syria demonstrate enormous courage. Their determination to continue protesting for their rights, mostly still peaceful protests, is an inspiration and a testimony to the human spirit.