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. chrissy

    Lol Meredith, i think HEs trying to show everyone why they shouldnt drink and do drugs!

    July 26, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  2. Philip

    The entire animal kingdom survives off of one single piece of dead meat. Soon, nature sends scavengers who battle over the last remaining scraps.
    That "pc. of dead meat" is Syria, for one example...a pc. of dead meat in your gut or under your stove, for another. Human animals kill what nature sends to rid you of that dead meat before it harms you. But you blame what nature sends to help you! You blame germs and bacteria for that which hurts you...you swat the flies as the dead meat rots undigested in your own glut.
    And you, America, are under the influence of mind altering prescription drugs.
    (only one in four people can possibly understand my written words here.
    "24% of US adult citizens are incapable of understanding written text.[without video pictures to help]"-The National Adult Literacy Survey 2002-2006, the most comprehensive study of this kind ever conducted, costing over 14 million dollars to conclude.

    July 26, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • @Philip

      Are you speaking for yourself while under the influence of drugs and beef in your fat gut?

      July 26, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      Not good at math, are you?
      One in four cannot read your words if 24% can't read.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    Prior to Nazi Bayer AG designed pharmaceuticals becoming widely available in the USA, the avg. US citizen had no problem understanding written words w/o video to help. There weren't any TVs to 'help' you adopt a talking heads opinion.
    AND YOUR OWN PRESIDENT WASN'T GAGGING THE FBI from reporting exactly who financed 9/11.
    @President Obama...lift Bush's federal judges gag order from the FBI. Allow Sibel D. Edmonds to name the men who financed 9/11. And RELEASE the hundreds of Bridas corp. employees labled as "suspected terrorists" at GITMO and DHSs 160 Homeland Security Prisons. ty

    July 26, 2012 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  4. Philip

    Calling me names does not refute what I say. Now, you old hags get back on your electronic menstrual cycle and ride somewhere else. Let US adults discuss exactly why President Obama refuses to de-gag OUR FBI. We the taxpayer pay the FBI and have EVERY right!
    Of course the FBI uncovered those who financed 9/11...the Bush-Bin Laden Group of investors.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Meredith

      You cannot be speaking to me. I do not even know you. After this post, you have the gall to call yourself an adult?

      July 26, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      "Calling me names does not refute what I say. Now, you old hags get back on your electronic menstrual cycle and ride somewhere else." Do you think you're witty? You're wrong. You sound like you're 14. Pot, meet kettle.

      July 26, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. chrissy

    So they say in the past few months the type of weapons the rebels are using are more advanced. Any doubts now about why Russia and China are against an intervention in Syria???

    July 26, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  6. chrissy

    @ Philip, give it a freakin rest would ya! Youre the one calling names, which makes you the KING OF CRAP!

    July 26, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  7. chrissy

    lol @ Meredith, not only does he think hes adult, but he also thinks hes SUPERIOR too! Roflmao!

    July 26, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    Same as it ever was
    Same as it ever was
    Syria is:
    Same as it ever was...

    July 26, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  9. Barry G.

    Do they know where Assad is hiding?

    July 26, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  10. Superman

    I beleive that phillip is the after math of a birthed himroid how ever you spell it the correct spelling for himroid is (PHILLIP)

    July 26, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  11. Superman

    @banasygood one i love the talking heads but that is good

    July 26, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Yeah, I love them, too.
      Good eye!
      I thought that song, (or at least that line from it) was apropos for what's going on in Syria today.

      July 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Superman

    Lloks like phillip has multiple personality disorder now now phillip play nice

    July 26, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. banasy©

    This is one of the best posts I've read all day!
    Thanks for the laugh!

    July 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. chrissy

    @ Philips Secret Friend, PUHLEEEEEZZZZZZ dont punish us like that! Roflmao! From your lips to gods ears! 😉

    July 26, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. chrissy

    and those last 2 posts of supposedly superman, are NOT obviously.

    July 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
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