Syrian communities persevere under heavy shelling

(CBS News) DAMASCUS, Syria - The Assad dictatorship has ruled Syria for more than 40 years. A popular rebellion rose up in 2010, and it's been open warfare since.

It's extremely hazardous for reporters to get into the war zone, but CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer was able to reach a neighborhood under siege on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

When Palmer enters the area, it's 6 p.m. The heavy shelling doesn't usually start until 9 p.m., so it's safe to go around the wrecked and almost-deserted neighborhood.

The neighborhood was one of the first to rise up against President Bashar al Assad. For almost two years, it's been punished for it.

Now, 80 percent of the residents have been driven out. The few who remain here are too poor to leave. Or, like 21-year-old Sara, too committed to the anti-regime fight.

"It is better to live here and die with dignity," Sara says.

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At home, most days there is enough to eat for three generations of Sara's family but only sporadic electricity.

The children haven't been to school for two months, and most of them are stuck here unable to get through the military checkpoints that ring their neighborhood.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer traveled to a town outside Damascus, Syria to report about what the situation was like for the 20 percent of residents who have remained throughout the Syrian revolution. She took shelter with a family in their basement when the neighborhood came under attack
CBS News

Instead, they've joined the local Free Syrian Army defense force. One of the members says he has been on guard, night after night, since April.

"Oh, I am so tired," he says. "Look at me. I'm so tired right now."

But, the hardship and the stress haven't sapped their resolve to fight for Assad's soldiers, who are manning a checkpoint a few hundred yards away in the dark. Assad's soldiers do this every night and ever y hour, shooting at the cars and at the civilians.

The Free Syrian Army defense force member said he does not want to make peace.

"Absolutely not," he said. "I will kill them -- every one of them."

Back at Sara's house, it's almost bedtime. The shelling this evening is not very heavy, but it doesn't take long before loud explosions are heard. It's too dangerous to stay above ground so the family picks up their bedding and hurries to the safety of the basement.

It's very difficult to imagine what they Syrian army is shooting at in the pitch blackness and in a residential area. In fact, it feels very much as if they're doing it purely to terrorize people.

The mortars and rockets continue to fall, but not on Sara's family. However, it falls on other families in suburbs around Damascus every night and every day.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."