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. Laziz

    So interesting how the "Friends of Syria" aka the USA, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, all chanting "democracy" are sponsoring terrorists to kill Syrians they pretend to set free! Are Saudia Arabia and Qatar democracies? To turn around and blame Islam is so idiotic and lame. Indonesia is a Muslim country, and everything seem to be fine over there. When Hitler was slaughtering Christians, did anyone blame it on Christinity? People should educate themselves before writing their garbage here!

    August 17, 2012 at 6:15 am | Report abuse |
    • irunner

      I seem to remember Hitler was slaughtering Jews, not Christians. Personally, I only see a dictator slaughtering anyone who threatens his power.

      August 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Everett Wallace

      the united states has played a very dangerous game and they lost

      August 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shawn Irwin

      Hitler often invoked god in his speeches . . . . and considered himself to be christian. People like you try to deny this and want to give athiests and agnostics a bad name, but the facts are, the culprit was on your side of the fence.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • janey33

      Shawn Irwin...Just because someone mentions God and considers themself to be a Christian, does not mean they are! Christians are followers of Christ and go according to His teachings. They are known by what they say and do and their beliefs. It is very obvious that Hitler did not live a Christian life.

      August 18, 2012 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      I never heard of the USA being considered a friend of Syria.

      Indonesia is a country a person who is not a member of one of the 6 legal religions can be arrested and jailed just for believing differently.

      Many people blamed Christianity when Hitler was killing Jews. It was well-known that the policy was the culmination of a long legacy going back to the Gospels to blame the Jews for Christ's death. The problem is that antisemitism was powerful force on the Allied side as well, which is one of the reasons that the idea of a homeland for European Jews was proposed (i.e. Israel). This way the allies could say they did not kill them, but it also made it pretty clear that they didn't want them around.

      August 18, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • K

      Hitler did not kill many Christians. When/if he did they were a "threat" to Germany and him personally. He killed Jewish people. Funny how you talk about people educating themselves when you sir have none. If you did you would know about the Bali bombing in Indonesia in the early 2000's, or about the other subset al-qaeda branches based out of there.

      August 18, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brandon

      And you should probably be the first one to take your own advice.

      August 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • drkent3

      Take your own advice Laziz...

      August 19, 2012 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
  2. clare

    Wars have been created by and startwed by economic hit men for years. these people are sent into other countries to destroy them on purpose so that the bilderbergs all over the world can bring in their engineers to rebuild the destroyed country. they have been making money on both sides for over 50 years. create wars and make money is their game. all the banks and cooperations have their hands in every war and we are loosing our children in every one of them. we are so stupid to let one percent rule us.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  3. psychicstalker

    somebody had to imagine this otherwise it would not be happening.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. clare

    It's not about religion, it,s about money and the destruction of the us as we know it. all of these wars has been destroying our economy, as well as the oil country,s economies. who is benefiting? who wants to de-industrialize the world by suppressing all development? why is nuclear energy hated? because, it's the key to self help. it would bring 3rd world countries out of their impovished state. the wealthy wants to keep us in servitude and not independent.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
  5. clare

    What.s uop you don, t like the truth. everyone needs to read the true story of the bilderberg group and then all in the world would know how devious they are.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  6. clare

    Cnn you are not letting my comments fly.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
  7. clare

    To faher. what you said is so true. right here in the us is the most preducised lot of people. we are suppost to be democrated. what a joke. behind the scenes have been the divide and control bunch. we are the only country that has demographics to fill out on the applications for jobs. we are still black balled, red lined, and excluded by race. we still have skin heads, gangs, kkk, etc. we are suppose to be americans, not white,black,red, chinese. etc. we still have gettoes. who owns the banks are guilty to

    August 17, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
    • K

      Clare, please before you type something, please make it have some form of thought. It looks like you took feces and threw it at a wall to see if it would stick. First, use this this called proper grammar. This includes spell check and using CAPITAL letters. Don't be a lazy gen y person that does not use proper grammar cause you use your phone all the time. Unless you are willing to make sense and use this proper grammar, please refrain from speaking and let the grownups talk.

      August 18, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jon

    The only reason why the UN doesn't help is because China and Russia doesn't want them too. Politics is more valuable than human lives.

    August 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sherri

    Why is anyone surprised at this? I'm not.This is a Muslim country. All they know is violence and bloodshed. Egypt will be next. I just can't imagine why anyone is surprised at this. These people kill their own people all the time, in suicide bombings. This is just business as usual for them.

    August 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • drkent3

      Sherri, you make me ashamed to be grouped with you under the name of 'US Citizen'. You are completely ignorant and bigoted. People are people, and nobody deserves to be oppressed – regardless of their religion. Perhaps if you actually attempted to get out of your small world you might find many interesting and wonderful things.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. USAFrank

    People of the United States of America and the World,
    Well, it just goes to show how effective the United Nations and the Arab League are in resolving Inter-Arab State conflict.
    Next to add to the list. Apparently the CIA and Pentagon have knowledge of Iranian Military Trainers/Soldiers assisting the Assad Military.
    If true, it proves Iran and Russia will do everything possible to eliminate the opposition and suppress Democracy by killing as many Syrian opposition forces as possible.
    This will probably go on for years thanks to Russia and China just like the Lebanon Civil war. Russia and Iran and China need to be held accountable for all the deaths of women, children and noncombatants.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. outspoken

    The Mullahs did outsmart the experts of washington.

    August 18, 2012 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
  12. tigrr

    Before US gets dragged into another "war" ... read this....
    Bush WH Gang did do 9/11 -- check out on youtube: CIA Asset Susan Lindauer Can Now Speak 10 years after 9-11. -- all NYers were exposed to thermite nuke radiation, all soldiers in these bogus wars are exposed to depleted uranium, all Americans have been repeatedly lied to ...

    August 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. genebrady

    Flood the country with highly paid, trained Mercenaries and this is exactly what you get. What picture did your imagination paint for you? I'm assuming paradise without the reality.

    August 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dom

    How did the western nations (britain and us) expect Assad to react?
    "Hey, go start a rebellion and throw Assad out for us."
    2.5 million refugees and tens of thousands dead later....and our hands are clean.
    Now, they complain that Putin is heavy handed when he doesn't allow things to fall into
    anarchy at their instigating. And should a rebellion start and millions died, they would again say, "Hey...how was I to know....I'm innocent of this nations blood."

    August 18, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. puckles

    Sign of the End times.

    August 18, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
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