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. GJ

    Nobody will understand the Arabs thats plain and simple. They have their own culture that's very different from the majority of the world.
    Unlike Christianity in its numerous schism the Islamic schism is more about control and power. Its a whole history lesson into the Caliphates and Imams. The point is this is a pure Sunni vs. Shiite conflict.

    The US has NO interest in Syria, llike it has no interest in Iran, nor Lebanon or any Middle East country with the exception of our puppeteer the Sauds of Saudi Arabia.

    We support a totalarian monarchy government that grants very few rights over a government that atleast has a party system ( although one party), a diverse sectarian populace. Syria and Iran both housed and financed "terrorist organizations" but you can consider them the real freedom fighters becuase they were only formed when US supported Israels invasion in Lebanon.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • ScottCA

      Logic is universal and so is moral calculus. cultural relaivism is a fallacy of logic, as it is a circular arguement, as is all relativism. Relativism makes all rational discource impossible.

      Cultural relativsm culd be used to argue that it was Nazi Culture to kill Jews in their country, so who are we to judge. Clearly relativsm is an illogical frame of mind.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry G.

      You know the old saying: East is east, and West is west.

      August 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • rick

      an understandable lack of coherency because english is apparently not your first language but you could at least try to make some sense or get someone to post for you. what a waste of time reading your comment.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Proud to be an American Muslim

      Let me rephrase what you said so that you can see the extent of your bias. "Nobody will understand the West thats plain and simple. They have their own culture that's very different from the majority of the world. Unlike Islam which is basically united and follows one Qur'an, the Christian schism is more about control and power, following multiple versions of the Bible. Its a whole history lesson into the Monarchies and the Chruch. The point is this is a pure Catholic vs. protestant vs. Seven day Adventists vs Greek Orthodox vs Unitarians vs Quakers vs Mormon, etc. conflict."

      The US is the leader of the free world and should intervene in Syria by establishing a no fly zone. Just as we saved Europe from Hitler, we can do the same here..

      August 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @ Proud to be an American Muslim
      > Let me rephrase what you said so that you can see the extent of your bias

      And we are supposed to believe YOU are free of bias… please.

      August 20, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  2. ScottCA

    The United Nations must make changes to enable the General Assembly to override veto votes, when calls for action are repeatative and sustained for sufficient length of time and by a sufficent number of members, that action is required to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of International law. We cannot afford to allow the UN to fail n the same manner as the League of Nations failed.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      The UN has already failed.

      August 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Myto Senseworth

    Arabs are still killing Arabs........what's new?

    August 16, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. AO

    Many viewer of CNN are appalled at the crimes committed by the regime. I have been to the city of Aleppo. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The enitre old quarter of the city is a "UNESCO world heritage area." Most people on the city, tried to stay on the sideline of the conflict not out of love for the Syrian government but because they experienced its brutality 30 years ago and watched neigburing Hama lose 20000 to 30000 of its citizens for standing up to the Assad family. Yet, when rebels entered the city, the military did not think twice about bombing the city with artillery, helicopters and fighter jets just to put the rebels in a big dilemma. They of course get blamed for their mere presence in the city as a cause for the bombing. The real cause is the systematic brutality of the government.

    This did not start as a sectarian conflict although the regime has succeeded in promoting sectarian aspects. This was a policy of the government and did not happen by accident or because the people are particularly prone to sectarianism.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dr.Phill 101 ....

    My total support to all the Sirian people and may all of you overcome this bloody chapter stronger than before . Siria is going thru a very bad breakup or divorce , Assad has lost control and he is keeping his people hostage to such violance . This problem has been building up for many years and his arrogance make him blind . He needs to wake up from his broken dream and face reality . When the God of Kaos speaks , the people must sit tight and listen .

    August 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Heidi

    Bloody, violent and ugly conflict to throw off a well arrmed dictator is not mid east or muslim owned. I wonder if we saw these people as people we'd be more properly shocked. It's very sad that US help is limited to arrms and TV covrage, but I don't want another war either.. I have trouble believeing that some people have ever read a history book.

    August 16, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      I think people are no longer shocked because since the day of my birth in 1980 until now there has been similar conflicts in the East. People are just jaded by it all. We begin to lump everyone in as a whole. Right or wrong this is what is happening. It is not shocking to hear this because we expect to hear and see it. I thank god daily that I am an american citizen. We have our own political problems but I dont have to worry about a bomb dropping at my feet over them. I merely have to worry about ignorant posts on CNN.

      August 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • kls817

      It is shocking but any American involvment would only make things worse. Sunnis will start killing Shiites and then the violence will escalate further. Then America will be blamed and then feel responsible for nation building. We need to stay out of there entirely.

      August 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Barry G.

    I’m not so sure that we should be surprised by the events occurring in Syria.

    Considering the event of the Arab Spring, the ongoing strife between the two dominant factions (or sects) of Islam, the economic forces of Mid-East oil, a dictator like Assad, along with his vile generals and regime—perhaps we should have expected this.

    August 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tony

    This is a civil war, let them kill eachother and whoever is left wins.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tony

    I hope we ( AMERICA ) stays out of it. Let Russia and China pay for the reconstruction.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. us citizens fat and opinionated

    Never have I read 4 pages of such dribbling dribble as you americans have typed here, my god you have the combines minds of a nat.

    August 16, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • LOL

      "Never have I read 4 pages of such dribbling dribble as you americans have typed here, my god you have the combines minds of a nat."

      All right, this is how it should read, were one smart enough to know better:

      Never have I read four pages of such dribbling dribble as you Americans have typed here; my God, you have the combined minds of a gnat.

      I won't even go into syntax.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. desert voice/troubledgoodangel

    I don't want to get into trouble here, but it's the prophet, stupid! For a prophet to be flawless, he must be God at the same time. All other human prophets, regardless of their stature, had flaws. This is the problem of Islam. The sooner the followers of Islam acknowledge this, and embrace Jesus as the Infallible Prophet, they will continue divided, killing one another!

    August 16, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. alex

    How can this could be stopped bcos no one could understand how they will be figthing themselve cos they are from the same country but my advise is that they should try and underestand theirselve

    August 16, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Al

    Good luck to them, may they take care of themselves and that we get out before it's to late.

    August 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jiripinkas

    Islam the religion of peace and love strikes again. Alleppo will be reduced to rubble, the whole country will be destroyed before Assad leaves but he will leave, maybe in a box tho....

    August 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. maude

    People moved Africa to India to Middle East and then to Europe and then to the Americas. We are all brothers and related as humans.
    Politics and Religion is destroying humanity. The sooner we stop believing in the invisible one, the sooner we will better off.

    August 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9