BEIRUT (Reuters) - Terrified residents cowered in their homes on Monday in Syria’s Homs, as army tanks fired shells, machineguns and mortars into their neighborhoods, and amateur video filmed by anti-government activists showed carnage in a city street.
Four bodies of what appeared to be male civilians lay bloodied under fallen power lines in a narrow alleyway of the Baba Amr district, their limbs twisted, heads gashed and brains spilling out.
“What is happening is a slaughter,” said Fadi, a resident near Baba Amr who spoke to Reuters on Skype. “They hit people with mortar fire.”
Baba Amr has been one of the hardest hit areas of Homs, a hotbed of revolt since the government began its crackdown on a nine-month-old protest movement seeking President Bashar al-Assad’s removal.
“This is Baba Amr, December 26, 2011, and the random shelling is still falling on the neighborhood,” a voice shouted over women’s screams in the video. “These are the martyrs thrown in the streets. God is greatest!” the man’s voice shouted.
A third day of heavy gunfire in Syria’s flashpoint city killed at least 20 people, the day before an Arab League monitoring mission is expected there, activists said.
The people of Homs are awaiting the arrival of the monitors, who are supposed to determine if Assad is keeping his word by withdrawing the army from civilian areas.
“Where are the Arabs? Where is the international community? This is what happened after mortar rounds fell on our neighborhood,” yelled the voice in the video as it panned over a row of crumbling buildings.
“These are the destroyed homes. God is greatest! God is greatest! The martyrs are in the streets! We can’t get an ambulance in.”
Assad’s government says it is battling an insurgency by armed Islamist terrorists.
What began as peaceful protests nine months ago has become increasingly violent as army deserters and armed rebels begin to fight the crackdown and attack security forces.
Residents in some areas said they were too terrified to venture outside. One described to Reuters a state of siege.
“They’ve been doing a few surprise rounds of firing every few hours since early morning,” construction worker Tamir told Reuters by telephone. “I don’t feel hopeful that the Arab League monitors can do anything, they won’t help us at all.”
“Every time the firing starts, we run down to the basement and wait for it to stop... I swear to God that we are all cold and hungry here. There’s not enough food, there’s not enough fuel for heating any more. The area is surrounded by soldiers.”
Three other video segments said to have been filmed in Homs on Monday morning showed two tanks facing in opposite directions next to an apartment block. One fired a shell from its main gun. The other was firing a heavy weapon, possibly a tank-mounted mortar.
A third tank, its commander standing up in the sand-bagged turret, maneuvered along the street. There were constant bursts of machinegun fire and the sound of rifles.
A third video showing a tank recorded a loud explosion, like the sound of its main gun firing. Finally, after a flash and a loud blast, the screen went white.
“If we go out, we have to stay in the alley our house is on. If we move past there we might get shot at,” construction worker Tamir said. “Two people in the neighborhood were just wounded by machineguns.”
“We can’t rely on the Arab League. The only one we can turn to is God. We’ve been bearing this for 10 months and they keep giving the government extensions and now finally they brought monitors and then what? More extensions? Until we all die?”
Reporting by Erika Solomon and Douglas Hamilton; Additional reporting by Ayat Basma; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Peter Graff