August 8th, 2012
07:10 PM ET

Two days in Aleppo: Snipers, temporary graveyards and stairwell beds

Editor's note: CNN's Ben Wedeman and crew are some of the few international reporters in Syria, whose government has been restricting access of foreign journalists and refusing many of them entry. Wedeman spent two days this week in Aleppo, a city of more than 2 million people where rebels and government forces are fighting.

Below is an edited account of what Wedeman saw in Aleppo, including his harrowing trip into the city past snipers, street vendors selling their wares as bombs fall, and a lack of enthusiasm for the rebels' battle among many civilians.

The crack of sniper fire welcomed us into a rebel-held part of Aleppo.

Traveling through a back road on Monday, with six people crammed into a small car, we drove through government-controlled territory, bypassing a checkpoint and rolling right past the military intelligence headquarters. Vendors sold tea and coffee by the side of the road, with traffic fairly normal.

Traffic was noticeably less as we approached a rebel-held area, one neighborhood over from the Salaheddine neighborhood where fierce fighting has raged. As the car passed an intersection near a Free Syrian flag, three or four shots rang out, apparently at the vehicle.

No one was hurt, and once the vehicle passed the intersection, rebel fighters nearby shouted for the driver to stop.

“There's a sniper right there. What are you doing?” they said. The sniper apparently was part of the government's forces.

The nervous and suspicious rebels wanted to see our IDs, asked where we were from, who we were going to see, who sent us. So the crew spent time trying to explain why it was there and who it wanted to interview.

While we were talking, a yellow taxi with its back window shot out screeched to a stop in front of the soldiers. A bloodied man was slumped in the front passenger seat – shot by a sniper, other occupants said – and the soldiers urged on the driver, who was headed to a field hospital.

A few civilians figured they'd take their chances on foot. Even though the rebel fighters shouted at them to stay, they ran through the intersection, drawing sniper gunfire. We saw no one get shot.

Watch: Rebels prepare for assault

We eventually drove to Salaheddine, one of the main rebel-government battlefields, where a rebel commander said fighters were preparing to lay down improvised explosive devices in anticipation of an advance by government tanks.

A commander said these IEDs are being put together under the supervision of Syrians who learned how to make them while fighting Americans in Iraq.

It was a neighborhood virtually deserted outside of rebel forces. A couple of blocks from the front line, a few handfuls of people were retrieving possessions on Monday; otherwise, several thousand residents had fled.

More: Who controls Salaheddine?

Deeper inside rebel-held territory, such as the Sikkari neighborhood, many more residents have stayed, though not because conditions are pleasant. Government bombs fall on targets across rebel-held parts of the city, and electricity in these areas is intermittent. Despite this, many people stay – sometimes because they have no easy way out, and in many cases because they don't have the means to leave, even if they have a path out.

Cut off from the city morgue, Sikkari residents turned a public park into a temporary graveyard. Abu Hamoud, a fighter, said that one grave contained three bodies that no one could identify because they were so severely mutilated.

"We're confused," Nahla, an 11-year-old Aleppo resident, said. "We feel they want to attack us. We left this area before, then came back. Now we want to leave again, but we can't."

In Sikkari, a few shops and street vendors were at work this week, giving inhabitants some sense of normality. But at night, many people sleep in stairwells, deeming them the safest place to rest amid the bombing.

More: Sectarian divides a slow suicide for Syria?

About 50% to 60% of Sikkari's pre-battle population is still there. For those who stay, prices are up – a kilogram of tomatoes costs four times what it did a month ago – and work is hard to come by.

Although many residents in this predominantly Sunni city are no fans of the Alawite-dominated regime, enthusiasm for the battle seems muted.

In Libya's 2011 uprising, there was a giddy sort of excitement about driving out the government and fighting then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. But a lot of people don't get excited when they see Free Syrian Army fighters as they did in Libya when they saw the rebels there.

More: What options are left?

One man, a jeweler, told CNN's crew that he was disturbed at the fundamentalist, Islamist nature of some of the rebel fighters.

There's a certain hesitation or caution among many of the people about the whole turn of events. There's no love lost for the regime, but there's not the enthusiasm you'd expect for the new sheriff in town.

Unlike our drive in, we never encountered any government forces on our drive out of Aleppo. Making the long night-time drive through the city, we were in a vegetable truck – a man washed it out before we got in. It was a very bumpy, hot and dusty ride, and we were all in our flack jackets and helmets – just in case.

Syria: Full coverage

Impact Your World: Information on Syria's humanitarian crisis, and aid for refugees

soundoff (204 Responses)
  1. Rob

    LOL. Awesome lead in link to this article "Sniper fire greets CNN in Aleppo ". Even the Aleppine citizens/inhabitants have had it with CNN.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. sparks2000

    CNN sneaking into Syria is admirable....perhaps even foolish,but it is brave......now why aren't they brave enough to confront the US gov't as well?

    August 14, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • William

      Because this government is exactly what they want.

      August 14, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Twocentsplain

    Hmmm. Do we root for the meglomaniac ruler Assad who seems willing to destroy his country to keep power, or for the "rebels" who clearly despise Americans having learned the art of IED in Iraq against Americans? I say we to each his own. THeir problem, not ours

    August 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Taskmaster

      I say leave Assad alone. He is doing a pretty good job of cleaning out terrorists.I think we should send him aid.If these rebelswant to fight for the muslim brothehood let the terrorist muslim brotherhood support them.

      August 14, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JohnnyAnonymous

    "A commander said these IEDs are being put together under the supervision of Syrians who learned how to make them while fighting Americans in Iraq."

    ...and we're still expected to run to their aid?

    August 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Guest

    The vietnamiese used traps against Americans in Vietnam, when we left the vietnamese atempted to subdue cambodia which end up using the same tactics against the Vietnamese.

    Funny how history repeats itself.

    August 15, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
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