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, who used to live in Aleppo, has spent time over the past two weeks in the 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. Read more from CNN inside Syria.
What we saw during our trips in Aleppo were not images of the city I knew: The shelling, the snipers, the destruction. I never imagined this city would be standing in the middle of warfare. Nobody imagined it would turn into this.
Some parts of Aleppo are complete battle zones. Shells and rubble litter the streets. Cars are blown to pieces.
This beautiful city is where we raised my daughter for her first years from 1990 to 1993. When I was at work my wife went everywhere shopping with my daughter and going to markets.
As we drove quite close to the neighborhood where I used to live, one in government control, I took a quick look and noticed it looked mostly the same. I quickly refocused, concerned for our safety. A government checkpoint was coming up on the right.
The shelling here is constant and random and government forces seemingly go from neighborhood to neighborhood each day. On our first night in Aleppo, I didn't sleep more than 15 minutes because of the constant bombardment.
It's almost like it’s a different city that I lived in 20 years ago. Physically it’s the same, but the physical resemblance is it. Otherwise, it is unrecognizable. Many of the main features of Aleppo, including the Old Citadel, still stand strong, even if they've been hit or crumbled a bit.
While some parts of town are in ruins, in others, people are still just trying to live and survive.
In Al-Sha'ar we saw open air markets where people were selling vegetables. You wouldn’t know by being there that there's a war going on. Then about 500 meters off the street an air force jet begins bombing and strafing.
Some people stopped and stared, others went into doorways and took cover, but for the most part traffic went on and people were buying and selling vegetables.
Aleppo is still a city of many million people and despite everything a lot of them are just trying to feed their families. That's why they are out selling food, in the midst of bombings, to try to make ends meet. But with food prices quadrupling and barely anyone working, there's no money to be found here. So even though there is food, many can't afford it.
The shelling and bombardment has become a background track that many residents have grown used to. Growing up in Lebanon during the civil war was the same. As a gunbattle raged on, three blocks away you'd never know it. Eventually, the noise blends in.
But as we drive through the city, the smell is what sticks out. An acrid smell of burning garbage follows you wherever you go. There's no garbage collection and residents are left to burn it themselves or in some neighborhoods gather it for a collective burn. The streets remain uncleaned, with sidewalks and streets sandy and gritty.
Driving through these streets, the transformation of Aleppo from a beautiful city to a war zone is jarring. Jets strafing and bombing Aleppo was something I never thought I'd see. But for those who are living here, this is the reality. They will try to find money and food however they can, all the while dodging shelling and trying to keep their families safe.
Whether they support the rebel efforts or are just trying to remain unbiased, one thing is clear: This is no longer the Aleppo that they or I had come to know and love. The question now is what will it look like when this all ends?
More from Ben Wedeman inside Syria:
- Life and death in Aleppo: He wasn't a fighter or a revolutionary. But 45-year-old Hassan, a shopkeeper, died from a sniper's bullet.
- Snipers, stairwells and graveyards: Two days inside Aleppo
- How to sneak into a war zone: To get in and out of Aleppo, it helps to have a Plan B. And maybe a Plan C and D.