Bloodletting underway in Syria, as rebels falter

It's a bloodletting in Syria. Civilians are facing tanks. There's every indication the dictatorship is moving to crush, once and for all, the eleven-month-old rebellion against the 40-year dictatorship of the Assad family.

Homs, a city of 1.7 million people, which is a little bit more than Philadelphia, is under siege by tanks and artillery for the fifth day in a row. Scenes like this are playing out in several Syrian cities and towns tonight.

Syria matters because of its neighborhood. It borders both Israel and Iraq. While the government there has banned independent reporting, CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward got to the battle lines with the rebels.

Syrian rebels carry their wounded after battles with the Assad regime
CBS

Ward found a battle being fought by farmers and workers, very close to home.

Just outside of the city, the rebels moved in on a checkpoint set up by the Syrian army to choke off rebel traffic. The men crept through an olive grove. Then the attack began. As they opened fire, the enemy remained hidden from view.

"You are surrounded," the rebel leader called out to the Syrian soldiers. "Defect and join us."

But there was no surrender, and the battle raged on

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Many of the fighters were young and inexperienced, like Fouad Khashan, a 23-year-old mechanic. Hey was among the group that was yelling "charge!" as they lobbed grenades at the enemy. But the bullets kept on coming.

Moments later Fouad was hit. Under fire, the commander struggled to lift his limp body. Other men joined in to help.

They tried to reclaim this checkpoint. They haven't been able to do it yet and now there is a casualty. Someone has been hurt very badly. They try to take him to a hospital.

By the time they got him there, Fouad was dead.

At the hospital, body after body was hurried up the stairs. The men weeping for their fallen brothers.

"The honor of the Arabs is dead," said one man, who then cursed President Assad.

Later, with guns blazing and crowds chanting, the dead were carried home. Where the women waited, their wailing piercing the night air.

"Bashar al Assad is a dog," one woman cried.

At least four people were killed in the fighting Wednesday.

The rebel fighters are simply no match for the army regulars. They have no military training. They're not physically fit. They're up against an army with artillery, tanks. Soon the Syrian army will begin to use air power as well.

Many rebels say at this point there's no turning back. Too much damage has been done. Too much blood has been shed. They've been living under repression 40 years. They want to speak their minds with freedom, choose their own government. And they're willing to die to get there.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News

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