For those escaping Syria bloodshed, the horror remains

BEIRUT - Umm Mounir has not uttered a word for more than a month, ever since she witnessed the killing of her five children during shelling by Syrian regime forces of the flashpoint central city of Homs.

One of her children was barely an infant when he died.

After the tragedy, Umm Mounir, in her late 20s, was evacuated with hundreds of others to the outskirts of Damascus, where a journalist recently met with her as well as other refugees.

Hosted by an anti-regime activist, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, Umm Mounir sat quiet and expressionless.

"Ever since she arrived here, she hasn't said a word," said the activist.

"The people who brought her here told me what had happened. We took her to a psychologist for treatment. But she is still in shock."

At least one million people have been displaced inside Syria since the outbreak of the revolt against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in March last year, according to the United Nations.

A large number, mainly from Homs, have sought refuge in towns and villages around the capital.

Fleeing parts of the beleaguered country targeted by a fierce regime crackdown, they have sought refuge in areas such as Jaramana, Rukn al-Din and Qadisa where residents and activists are offering them aid and shelter.

But despite being out of harm's way, at least for now, the horrors they have witnessed cannot be erased.

"My husband was killed and my house was destroyed," a 25-year-old woman from the battered Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr told AFP, speaking on condition that her name be withheld.

She said she had no choice but to flee after her home was destroyed in March during fierce shelling by government troops.

"I took my four children and ran away," she said.

Their escape was itself fraught with difficulty.

"We had to move from house to house, hiding constantly. I was terrified we might be taken prisoner by regime forces," the woman said.

"They were killing people in cold blood, just because they came from Baba Amr."

The rebel stronghold that was home to some 20,000 people came under nearly a month of relentless shelling by government forces in March that destroyed much of the neighbourhood and left hundreds dead, according to human rights groups.

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