July 25th, 2012
09:37 PM ET

Inside Syria: Foreign fighters join Syrian rebels in Aleppo battle

Editor’s note: Rebels over the past few days have battled Syrian government forces in the northwestern city of Aleppo, the country’s commercial capital. It's a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and home to about 4 million people. The battle is part of a 16-month conflict in Syria that began elsewhere in the country when a fierce government crackdown on protesters morphed into a nationwide uprising against the regime.

CNN’s Ivan Watson and crew are some of the few Western reporters in Syria, whose government has been restricting access on foreign journalists and refusing many of them entry. Below is an edited account of what Watson has seen and been told in rebel-controlled towns near Aleppo on Wednesday:

People in every village in Aleppo province that CNN has visited say they’ve sent fighters to try to capture Aleppo. The bulk of the fighters are Syrian, but CNN has seen some foreigners among them.

There seems to be constant movement between these opposition-held enclaves and Aleppo, with some fighters leaving Aleppo to move their fallen comrades, and other, fresher fighters moving in. In the past two days, CNN’s crew has passed  two funerals in area villages for two rebel fighters who were killed in Aleppo.

The fighting in the region is having a visible effect on civilian life. Cars, trucks and vans loaded with civilians are leaving Aleppo. Some of those people earlier had left their villages to stay in Aleppo, because the city had been a safe haven until fighting began on Friday. But now some are going back to the villages they’d left.

Still, villages look increasingly deserted as you get closer to the big city. In the village of Injara, about 10 kilometers (a little over six miles) west of Aleppo, Sunni cleric Sheikh Ali Bukhro took CNN’s crew on a tour of the near-empty streets. He pointed out craters and holes in at least six stone houses, which he and residents said had been hit by rockets and artillery from a Syrian army base about four kilometers (2.5 miles) away.

“They hit us every night,” Bukhro said.

Other residents, mostly men who stayed behind to guard their homes, lamented that they hadn’t had electricity or running water in more than a month. Some men said they had sent their families to refugee camps in Turkey.

Villages and towns in this area have rebel brigades, and big cities have revolutionary councils that try to oversee the different militias that have sprung up. While most of the fighters are Syrian, some are foreigners who enter Syria through unofficial crossings at the Syria-Turkey border. Turkish border police generally have taken a laissez-faire approach to dealing with the fighters going into Syria, as well as with the civilians going back and forth between the countries (thousands of people have fled into Turkey to escape the fighting).

On Wednesday, CNN’s crew met a Libyan fighter who had crossed into Syria from Turkey with four other Libyans. The fighter wore full camouflage and was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle. He said more Libyan fighters were on the way.

“The foreign fighters, some of them are clearly drawn because they see this as … a jihad. So this is a magnet for jihadists who see this as a fight for Sunni Muslims,” Watson reported on CNN International’s “Amanpour” Wednesday night. “And that’s definitely cause for concern among some Syrian revolutionaries I know … who do not want an Islamist political agenda to be mixed in with their revolution.”

A majority of Syrians are Sunnis, and Sunnis make up a bulk of the opposition to Syria’s regime, which is dominated by minority Alawites, followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Earlier this week, in neighboring Idlib province, residents of a village where the rebel Syrian Falcons brigade was headquartered said fighters of several North African nationalities were serving in the brigade, even though the group's leader insisted all of his fighters were Syrian.  At least one armed man there introduced himself to CNN as a citizen of Turkey.

Syrian rebels, regime forces clash in Aleppo

Faces of the Free Syrian Army

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. About kingdoms.

    The animal kingdom thrives off of a single piece of dead meat. Soon, scavengers appear and fight for every last scrap. And then someone sprays disinfectant on them and they all die, and the scraps then do their dirty works.
    And so it is with athlete's foot fungus and men of nations. Several fungi will battle for the last scrap. LMAO. (THIS IS A GOOD ONE, EH?) ahem. (wheres raven?. sheesh. What HAVE you done with her! ala chrusty loading Joey on me. And I would still replace her rotors and pads for free if'n she be stranded er young folk needing their meds. woah! where'd THAT come from.)

    Are you voting for Lysol or Dr. scholl's? he hhe he he he he. 🙂

    July 26, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      This whole post make no sense. At all. What the heck does this have to do with the Freedom Fighters is Syria?

      July 26, 2012 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
  2. About kingdoms.

    Yes, as the Wonderful ~Prion from lack of publicity, yea, even prizes awarded to the good doktor whom discovers this wonder...every 25 freaking years...actually BLAMING what nature sent to clean-up your mess. Yea. And ththe peeple trade thith truthe for a bowl of Lentil Thtew. And! The spinach is Dead!

    July 26, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      This post makes even less sense! What is up with the last two sentences? Do you have a problem with people who have speech issues? I have a problem with people making fun of them!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
  3. Gas Guzzler

    Did someone mention rotors and pads... .?

    July 26, 2012 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  4. Brainwashed Americans

    Why is it taking so long for the world to go into complete chaos!

    July 26, 2012 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. revnowwhilewecan

    Went from "Syria Danny reports live!" to "CNN 'crew' reports"............. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 I needed that after a long night at work!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
  6. revnowwhilewecan

    Assad must be stopped! POTUS and SCOTUS please send your sons and daughters and help Syria to take US dollars for petrol, I mean for democracy. 😦

    July 26, 2012 at 5:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    Just as the US supported the terrorist, Bin Laden, the US now supports terrorists in Syria. Why? There's this little thing called Saudi oil that the US can't live without, and the wealthy Saudi sheikhs (same sheikhs involved with the attacks on 9/11) want Assad out of Syria so bad. The US must do what the Saudi sheikh terrorists want........ attack Syria and Iran.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:31 am | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    I like pepparoni pizza.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
  9. whatthe?

    What business does the leader of one man's freedom fighters have being in cahoots with another man leading terrorists? Merideth. (Jesus was from Galilee. All Galileans thpoke withe a lithpse at that time. One reason why Jews made fun of them)

    July 26, 2012 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. whatthe?

    The word 'jew' originally had nothing to do with religion as it does today. The word 'jew' originally meant that you were from the tribe of Judah, one of the 12 tribes of Israel.
    It is impossible that modern day Israel is still "god's chosen nation" as Jews claim. (25% of Israel's population are gentiles in direct violation of Jewish law and tradition)

    July 26, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  11. whatthe About kingdoms

    'About kingdoms' is also about the kingdom of Syria. See the scavengers fighting over every last scrap? No?

    July 26, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
  12. whatthe About kingdoms

    Jewsih law forbids Israel from forming alliances with foreign nations.
    The God of Israel warned Israel long ago that he would abandon them to their enemies if they ever joined forces with a foreign nation. Many are history's accounts of Israel being trounced by their enemies for disobeying this command.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
    • @Philip

      Stop hiding under thousands of user names.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  13. whatthe About kingdoms

    Philip isn't stupid. He knows Christopher Columbus had a map of the new world before he ever set sail, for example.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • @Philip

      No Philip, you aren't stupid but how shameful to credit yourself using this user name.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  14. Meredith

    What? What? What? What kind of weird rewriting of history is this??

    July 26, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  15. Hay!

    @Merideth. Be more specific. Name one thing said that you view as a "rewriting" of history, and we'll go from there. 🙂

    July 26, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      My name is M E R E D I T H. The post of 8:17. Total fabrication.

      July 26, 2012 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
    • @Philip

      Again it is you Philip? Hay is for horses. If you are trying to be cool since you are a dreadful middle aged nut case, the spelling is hey.

      July 26, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
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