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Syria: Homs attack is a game-changer

The onslaught in Syria marks a new chapter in which further bloodshed appears inevitable.

leaking and and bloodstains on the floor.

More from GlobalPost: Mass killings uncovered near Damascus

“Fifth of February, the Hikmat hospital,” says the voice on the video. “The surgery room was hit by shells. Here is one injured person,” he says, lifting covers to reveal a man unconscious from anesthetic, apparently left mid operation.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), medical staff and patients were gunned down when two field hospitals were targeted by Syrian forces Monday in Bab Amr, leaving three patients killed and a doctor needing an amputation.

“The hospitals were specifically targeted,” SOHR spokesman, Sami Ibrahim, told GlobalPost from close by Bab Amr.

“It’s a disastrous situation. People are losing their minds. When the bombing ceases we can hear them crying out for help.”

Interviewed by a GlobalPost reporter in Damascus on the day he fled with his family from Homs, Abu Yaman said his neighborhood of Inshaat had come under heavy fire, with no phone or mobile coverage for 11 days and no electricity and water for a week.

“We cannot walk in the streets so we made holes in the walls between each flat to reach a small shop at the end of the block open every day for just two hours,” he said.

“We are 10 families in the building and we all moved to the basement flat to use it like a shelter: 10 families living in a 150 square meter space underground.”

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Abu Yaman said residents had begun to burn tables, chairs and other household wood to try and stay warm through winter nights without heating oil or electricity and that corpses were being buried in private gardens because graveyards were either full or impossible to access.

“My two children haven’t slept well for months,” he said. “My wife was pregnant but she lost the baby after she was shocked by a bomb hitting our building. No one in the world can imagine what Assad’s forces are doing in Homs since Friday.”

The Assad regime denied the assault on Homs, with state-run Syria TV claiming corpses shown in video footage — said by activists to be victims of the bombardment — had been people kidnapped and killed by “terrorist armed groups.”

The assault with heavy weapons initially appeared to have been triggered by the capture of more than a dozen soldiers by members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), which attacked a checkpoint and an airbase on Friday.

In a video released on YouTube and broadcast by Arab satellite channels, a man identifying himself as from the Farouq Battalion of the FSA is heard taunting the captured soldiers.

“How did we capture you and you have everything, arms and ammunition, at this checkpoint?” he asks. “If we had captured women it would have been more difficult. It did not even take us 10 minutes to capture you.”

More from GlobalPost in Damascus: The real voices of the Syrian uprising

The taunting takes a sectarian turn when each man is forced to admit he is from the minority Allawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam from which the Assad family and much of the regime and loyalist security forces are drawn. Around three quarters of Syria’s population, and the overwhelming majority of the opposition, including the FSA, are Sunni Muslims.

A spokesman for the Free Syrian Army told GlobalPost the armed rebels had lost 27 soldiers in four days of fighting with Assad's troops up to Friday, saying the regime had planned an assault on Homs before the capture and video of its soldiers.

"The regime is a killing machine. Four days ago the regime said it would finish the revolution but the revolution will not end," said the FSA commander, known as Abu Ali. "We capture soldiers to show how weak the regime is. Their soldiers fight for one person, Bashar al-Assad. We fight for a cause: the nation."

In interviews with half a dozen different residents and activists in Homs since Friday, it appeared the majority of Assad’s forces remain, for now, deployed around restive neighbourhoods, while heavy artillery and rockets pound the city from afar.

The fear of many though, is that a full scale ground assault is imminent, with dark memories of the massacre of up to 30,000 civilians in Hama after that nearby Sunni-majority city rose up three decades ago to challenge Assad’s father, Hafez.

“The Assad regime wants to finish us,” Abu Yaman said. “We fear the president wants to make Homs another Hama. We are living in a very hard situation and we need help from the world.”