By Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT, March 6 (Reuters) - Residents of Baba Amr who fled to Lebanon said the smell of decomposed bodies, sewage and destruction filled the air in the Syrian city of Homs as troops seeking to crush a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad bombarded it into submission.
With aid workers still blocked from reaching the former rebel stronghold and most foreign journalists banned from Syria, witness accounts from residents who fled across the border portrayed a grim picture of conditions in Homs.
"The smell of death was everywhere. We could smell the bodies buried under the rubble all the time," said Ahmad, who fled to Lebanon last week.
"Bodies are in the streets, many are decomposed but we could not bury them," he said, speaking at a relative's house in Lebanon, looking tired with dark circles around his eyes.
"We saw so much death that at the end the sight of a dismembered body of a relative or a friend stopped moving us."
Residents knew the end was near when, after a month of shelling, the Syrian army blew up a 3-km (2-mile) tunnel they had used to smuggle in essentials keeping them alive.
After that fighters of the Free Syrian Army, citing lack of ammunition and many casualties, urged people to leave.
Men fled to Lebanon, women and children to villages in Homs province. But some did not make it. Activists said last week at least 62 people were killed when they tried to leave Baba Amr.
Those who left said heavy bombardment had razed most of the neighbourhood. Many buildings and houses were flattened, water pipes were blown up and sewage and litter filled the streets.
"I stopped feeling anything when I see people I know dead... Many people started feeling like that - the atrocities we saw were beyond our imagination," said another former resident, speaking from a secret location as his presence was illegal.
Syrian state television reported residents were returning to Baba Amr, airing footage on Tuesday of dozens of men, women and children walking through grubby streets, passing pock-marked and semi-destroyed buildings.
Syria says it is fighting armed militants funded and armed from abroad while residents say the crackdown is aimed at crushing pro-democracy protesters and those opposed to Assad.
A convoy sent by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Red Crescent to provide aid and evacuate the wounded was still awaiting approval to enter Baba Amr. Activists said the army may have stalled the convoy to remove traces of destruction and take bodies from the streets.
A man who fled a day after the army went in said soldiers raided houses, arresting men who remained in the district and executed some of them. Activists say at least 60 men were executed since Friday.
"They are cleansing the neighbourhood, they are robbing houses, arresting people then executing some. Baba Amr is besieged from all sides. It is a disaster," said Omar, speaking by phone from inside Homs the day he fled Baba Amr.
"They said they have a list of 1,500 men and they want them all... They are shooting everything that is moving, even animals. There are bodies in the streets, some are swollen and carry signs of torture," he said with a trembling voice.
An activists who was speaking to Reuters from Homs province said on Tuesday that there were at least nine rape cases reported to the activists and that the army continued killing young men in the district.
For a month of continuous shelling, residents felt abandoned by a world which left them without food or water and at the mercy of an unexpectedly severe military onslaught.
"We were surprised to see how long it lasted. We were not ready for all of that. We thought: 'Now Baba Amr will break the back of the regime,' and we thought: 'OK, let them come,'" said another resident called Omar who fled to Lebanon last week.
"After the third day of shelling we felt we were alone, the world has abandoned us, and that even if (Assad) uses his planes against us nobody will move," he said with a faint broken smile.
Many of those in Lebanon have lost contact with their families. They said in one month they buried a thousand people but many were left under the rubble and the death toll was impossible to ascertain.
"In every house there is a martyr if not more. It is impossible to know the exact number of those killed, we have to go back to Baba Amr and gather in a square to count each other in order to know how many are missing," said Omar.
Despite their losses, the men said they would return to take back their neighbourhood and bring down Assad.
"This is just one round. The war is not over. We are going back and we will not stop then. The army will leave Baba Amr whether they like it or not," Ahmad said. (Editing by Dominic Evans and Robin Pomeroy)
BEFORE YOU GO
07/13/2012 1:00 PM EDT
Car Bomb In Damascus
Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
07/13/2012 12:00 PM EDT
Susan Rice Condemns Killings
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
@ AmbassadorRice :
#Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.
07/13/2012 11:58 AM EDT
Russia Condemns Massacre
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/13/2012 11:55 AM EDT
Footage Of Massacre Aftermath (WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES)
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
07/13/2012 9:34 AM EDT
How Do Syrian Fighters Get Their Arms?
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.
Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
07/13/2012 9:10 AM EDT
Activists Report New Massacre (WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
07/12/2012 6:50 PM EDT
Hama Revolutionary Council: More Than 220 Killed
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
07/12/2012 6:17 PM EDT
Syrian State TV: 'Large Numbers Of Terrorists Killed'
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
@ AlexanderPageSY :
Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria
07/12/2012 5:36 PM EDT
Update: Death Toll In New Massacre Reportedly More Than 200
@ Reuters :
UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS