August 16th, 2012
07:18 AM ET

CNN inside Syria: Nobody imagined it would turn into this

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.

Photos: Showdown in Syria

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.

More: Struggling for survival

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.

More from inside Syria: Snipers, stairwells and graveyards

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.

soundoff (208 Responses)
  1. Bongo™

    I hope Ben and his guys are being careful. Hope they will be safe.

    August 16, 2012 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  2. KJMU

    The Arab-Muslims systematically murdering people whenever they can, targeting women and children. How is it that again and again Muslims brutal people killing women and children, even babies? The world has witnessed an acceleration of deadly violence in Syria. It is unacceptable that the Arab-Muslim world that use to scream on every single minor injury of a Palestinian in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to stay away and do nothing to help the poor Syrian citizens! While mass atrocities continue to be committed the Arab-Muslim world do not lift a finger!

    August 16, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • mike

      Oh shut up. Here in the US it's right wing Christian extremists who I am most afraid of.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • QB

      shut up.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Get a grip

      I find it pathetic that people like you, who are so incredibly ignorant, make such sweeping statements about life in the Mideast. You don't have a clue what it's like there. I have traveled in the area extensively and have many friends there. The kind of nonsense people like you spew is astounding in its ignorance. Christians fought Christians in World War II. Germans and Italians were Christian, and so were the allied forces. Would you have made the same statement about Christians? It is not because these people are Muslim they are fighting. It is because of dictators and despots who are making life miserable. I know this is difficult for you, but read a book or two about Islam. You might get educated. And don't believe for a moment that if a bunch of armed rebels started fighting government forces in your town, this very same thing wouldn't happen here. The only reason this doesn't happen in the US is because we are all good subservient sheep.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. scooby doo

    If the opposition wanted change, they need to fight through the non-violent means as that will give lasting peace. This only destroys eachother and external forces will use you like a pawn for their interests. If Gandhi could help India get independence from British and Mendela from White southafrican colonists, syrian opposition can also get a figure like that to fight democratically. It is a choice that Assad and the opposition made and so the country will suffer. No one can help here except the peace loving syrians. Eye for an eye will make all Syrians blind.

    August 16, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • EVN

      Ah yes, peaceful change. Work through the system (although it is closed to the majority of the population and is run by Assad and a relative handful of his henchmen), and when you protest the regime sends out snipers to shoot you down, and has its militias massacre entire villiages. You reap what you sow – and if I were in Syria I'd be giving my last breath to overthrow Assad.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Joe

    CNN is never going to quit trying to brainwash their viewership. They don't seem to realize everyone is actually against these "rebels", which is just a funded coup attempt. Give it up, CNN, you've lost this one.

    August 16, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • mike

      So Joe, you're FOR the guy who openly murders his own people?

      August 16, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • EVN

      Sure Joe – everyone is against the rebels. I suppose your counting those rebels too, and the tens of thousands Assad has already killed, and all those hundreds of thousands whose homes Assad has the Syrian army and air force shelling and straffing. Drink some more kool-aid Joe.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrey

      Joe, as you can see, you should have said "everyone who has brains and conscience...." – that would make it a correct statement.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  5. Shannon

    Excellent reporting. I hope the fighting ends soon in the name of preserving human life and centuries-old history. Don't these clowns understand they're killing their own kind, probably relatives in some cases, and permanently destroying their own heritage?

    August 16, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  6. c

    The United States via Qatar and Saudi Arabia have fueled this civil war. The Assad gov't is oppressive and in need of reform, while the FSA are comprised of Al Qaeda and Jihadist groups -"terrorists" that have been funded by the west, and filtered in from surrounding nations and regions. All of the death and destruction is the result yet again of U.S. foreign policy, whether the U.S. gov't admits it or not. Who arms Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain? The U.S. does.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ezeamigi Patrick Ekene

    In as much as i have always condemned the continuous assault by forces loyal to Assad, i must also at this point criticize the world leaders who instead of taking the bull by the horn, have decided to approach situation in Syria with soft hands... The Amos Valerie's led humanitarian team must be commended, but how long will UN keep concentrating on humanitarian aids, humanitarian aids doesn't bring back the lives of dozens of syrians whom are massacred daily. The pictures and videos we view daily about Syria depicts the highest level of genocide with incessant shedding of blood of civilians most of whom are children and women. Have Assad overpowered the whole world?.. If we are truly united, it should appear in our actions and not just the name... Peace in Syria!!

    August 16, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  8. NorCalMojo

    I wonder what they did expect. Civil wars are always a nightmare.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. elnuevocicero

    The rebels should have expected this. Assad was not going to give up easy. There are groups within Syria that will back Assad because they FEAR who will replace them (Like Jihadists for one) and then they will be worse off than before.
    Look what is happening in Egypt to the christians and other minorities. Things will get worse as the Muslim Brotherhood consolidates power.
    Syrinas dont want that to happen and this time they have teh backing of Russia, China and Iran and therefore the US and the EU can not openly intervene.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  10. Barry G.

    Russia and China deserve much of the credit for this catastrophe, by blocking efforts to halt the violence.

    Russia (Putin) and China, you should be ashamed of yourselves. The civilized world is ashamed of you, as we are ashamed of Assad, his ruthless generals and his evil regime.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • chris

      So is it your position that somebody, anybody should intervene in EVERY conflict worldwide weather it be internal or not?

      August 16, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  11. Chris HOnry

    WHAT WOULD THE USA GUBMINT DO TO ARMED REBELS? The USA would respond with severe violence, so why is this such an "I can't believe it" deal to anyone?

    And our CIA is helping so we'll have another Al Qaida stronghold to prop up the military industrial intelligence triad?

    August 16, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Joseph

      So you want a powerful Syria still? Face it, you are incapable of coming to fully hatched conclusions. The Al Qaeda stuff is minor, otherwise Ben would report it.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  12. Rich 3

    this will be a us city when Willard takes what little we have away for rich folks tax breaks...

    August 16, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  13. Joseph

    Despite what you may think, Ben has one of the largest sets of balls around. Thanks Ben!

    August 16, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Get a grip

      In reference to Ghandi, he was a man of MOSTLY peaceful protest. If you read his writings, you will find that he said that if there is no other other way, and peaceful non-violence doesn't work, then one must resort to violence to get the job done. If you read the history of India, as it threw off the chains of British rule, there was plenty of violence. A lot of people died. Dictators and despots do not go gently into the night when the people they rule no longer want them there. The Syrian rebels will win. Assad's days are numbered. What we should be concerned about is what happens in Syria after Assad is gone. Thanks, Ben, for your gutsy trip into hell. It's a rare person who can willingly go into a war zone and see what's going on.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  14. Tom

    I agree that any future government of Syria must give equal rights and protections to all its citizens including it's minorities. One of the checks and balances of a democracy is to ensure that the majority doesn't trample on the minority. This balance is sometimes tricky to reach in new democracies (re: post Cold War Serbia). That said, a DICTATORSHIP is never the answer.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Hitman

      Gee, do you think that will ever happen in America?

      August 16, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. EVN

    Why would anyone believe SANA? This regime isn't letting anyone in to report the situation on the ground and there is a reall good reason for that. Shed some light on what the regime is doing and all it is going to show is that they are truly the butchers of their own people.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • aspblopm

      Why is this killing and destruction worth it? The rebels knew this would happen and it was fine with them!

      August 19, 2012 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
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