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Syria rebels bloodied, battered, but defiant

Syrian rebels drag away a wounded fighter after a battle with President Assad's military forces
Syrian rebels drag away a wounded fighter after a battle with President Assad's military forces in northern Syria, Feb. 8, 2012. CBS

CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward was on the front lines with Syrian rebels Wednesday as they battled President Bashar Assad's forces near a city in the country's north. She saw the poorly armed group of men - most of whom have no military training - engage a military checkpoint manned by professional Syrian soldiers.

The clash ended with the rebel fighters retreating, dragging four of their comrades back as they died from wounds.

Syria's opposition and the so-called Free Syrian Army that supports it are facing daunting odds, both in the north and further south in Homs, the nation's third largest city and the focus of much of the Assad regime's reprisals against the uprising which began almost a year ago. But they won't back down.

Syria forces continue weeklong assault on Homs

Assad's army is attacking entire communities of Syrian people, engaging in battles not with shadowy insurgent groups and terrorists, as the president himself often claims, but with the teachers, farmers, and factory workers whose homes are being surrounded by tanks and artillery, and in many cases blown up with them still inside.

After the deadly clash Ward witnessed on Wednesday (click the video player at left to see her full report), the prayers and chants of those in the tightly knit community echoed through the night, mourning the loss of the four fallen men and demanding Assad pay the price for his government's increasingly bloody assault.

The dead rebels' bodies were moved to a local mosque Thursday morning in a funeral procession which was itself a blatant and unambiguous challenge to the Assad regime.

Ward said thousands joined the angry procession, virtually the entire community, chanting against Assad and shouting prayers for Allah to have mercy on them.

While this city hasn't yet come under attack from the regime's mortars and rockets, as in Homs, there are tanks located around the city's edges, snipers frequently open fire on funeral processions, and there's at least one checkpoint or camp manned by Syrian army soldiers.

The funeral procession on Thursday, for the four rebel fighters killed in the clash the day before, marched defiantly right past that checkpoint - right past the dictator's loyal troops, chanting for his downfall.

Ward said the defiance is a common theme. The battered communities which have risen up against the Assad family's 40-year rule may be facing daunting odds, but even as they mourn their losses, they are looking the regime in the eye and saying loudly, you can kill us, but we will keep coming. We are willing to die.

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