August 8th, 2012
07:10 PM ET

Two days in Aleppo: Snipers, temporary graveyards and stairwell beds

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 spent two days this week in Aleppo, a 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, including his harrowing trip into the city past snipers, street vendors selling their wares as bombs fall, and a lack of enthusiasm for the rebels' battle among many civilians.

The crack of sniper fire welcomed us into a rebel-held part of Aleppo.

Traveling through a back road on Monday, with six people crammed into a small car, we drove through government-controlled territory, bypassing a checkpoint and rolling right past the military intelligence headquarters. Vendors sold tea and coffee by the side of the road, with traffic fairly normal.

Traffic was noticeably less as we approached a rebel-held area, one neighborhood over from the Salaheddine neighborhood where fierce fighting has raged. As the car passed an intersection near a Free Syrian flag, three or four shots rang out, apparently at the vehicle.

No one was hurt, and once the vehicle passed the intersection, rebel fighters nearby shouted for the driver to stop.

“There's a sniper right there. What are you doing?” they said. The sniper apparently was part of the government's forces.

The nervous and suspicious rebels wanted to see our IDs, asked where we were from, who we were going to see, who sent us. So the crew spent time trying to explain why it was there and who it wanted to interview.

While we were talking, a yellow taxi with its back window shot out screeched to a stop in front of the soldiers. A bloodied man was slumped in the front passenger seat – shot by a sniper, other occupants said – and the soldiers urged on the driver, who was headed to a field hospital.

A few civilians figured they'd take their chances on foot. Even though the rebel fighters shouted at them to stay, they ran through the intersection, drawing sniper gunfire. We saw no one get shot.

Watch: Rebels prepare for assault

We eventually drove to Salaheddine, one of the main rebel-government battlefields, where a rebel commander said fighters were preparing to lay down improvised explosive devices in anticipation of an advance by government tanks.

A commander said these IEDs are being put together under the supervision of Syrians who learned how to make them while fighting Americans in Iraq.

It was a neighborhood virtually deserted outside of rebel forces. A couple of blocks from the front line, a few handfuls of people were retrieving possessions on Monday; otherwise, several thousand residents had fled.

More: Who controls Salaheddine?

Deeper inside rebel-held territory, such as the Sikkari neighborhood, many more residents have stayed, though not because conditions are pleasant. Government bombs fall on targets across rebel-held parts of the city, and electricity in these areas is intermittent. Despite this, many people stay – sometimes because they have no easy way out, and in many cases because they don't have the means to leave, even if they have a path out.

Cut off from the city morgue, Sikkari residents turned a public park into a temporary graveyard. Abu Hamoud, a fighter, said that one grave contained three bodies that no one could identify because they were so severely mutilated.

"We're confused," Nahla, an 11-year-old Aleppo resident, said. "We feel they want to attack us. We left this area before, then came back. Now we want to leave again, but we can't."

In Sikkari, a few shops and street vendors were at work this week, giving inhabitants some sense of normality. But at night, many people sleep in stairwells, deeming them the safest place to rest amid the bombing.

More: Sectarian divides a slow suicide for Syria?

About 50% to 60% of Sikkari's pre-battle population is still there. For those who stay, prices are up – a kilogram of tomatoes costs four times what it did a month ago – and work is hard to come by.

Although many residents in this predominantly Sunni city are no fans of the Alawite-dominated regime, enthusiasm for the battle seems muted.

In Libya's 2011 uprising, there was a giddy sort of excitement about driving out the government and fighting then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. But a lot of people don't get excited when they see Free Syrian Army fighters as they did in Libya when they saw the rebels there.

More: What options are left?

One man, a jeweler, told CNN's crew that he was disturbed at the fundamentalist, Islamist nature of some of the rebel fighters.

There's a certain hesitation or caution among many of the people about the whole turn of events. There's no love lost for the regime, but there's not the enthusiasm you'd expect for the new sheriff in town.

Unlike our drive in, we never encountered any government forces on our drive out of Aleppo. Making the long night-time drive through the city, we were in a vegetable truck – a man washed it out before we got in. It was a very bumpy, hot and dusty ride, and we were all in our flack jackets and helmets – just in case.

Syria: Full coverage

Impact Your World: Information on Syria's humanitarian crisis, and aid for refugees

soundoff (204 Responses)
  1. bobcat (in a hat)©

    @ Hope

    Personally, I have wept for many of my own and for those of my comrades in arms on the battle field. "banasy and company", as you put it, too has mourned many times. It is very presumpstious of you to thin think we have no empathy towards thes people. We have posted our feelings on this subject many times over. Wether you have seen them or not isn't our problem.
    So instead of making yourself seem like your at a level above us in the feeling department, you need to keep your indifference to our alleged indifference to yourself.

    Thank You

    August 8, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Janna

    I cannot say which side is the right one. All I know is Syria is a beautiful country with some wonderful people and it breaks my heart to see Aleppo and other areas completely devastated. I hope this ends soon...

    August 8, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bobcat (in a hat)©

    @ Janna

    It's really not a matter of choosing sides, as the rebels are just as much to blame for the loss of innocent lives. They have chosen to hide amongst the civilian population and bring the war on top of them as well. If they want to face off with government forces, at least make sure the civilians are out of the way before doing so.

    August 8, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. sithlord1

    I think its interesting that with Egypt, Libya and Syria the U.N. and Obama U.S. are allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to take control of those countries which happen to be surrounding Israel and the Brotherhood has already said that as soon as they are in control they will break the border and peace treaties those countries have with Israel.

    August 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      that is exactly what the Muslim fake president of the US wants. He is a muslim that is why he supports this action and the Brotherhood...Oh wait it was Bush fault he supported the Brotherhood not Osama oops i mean Obama. Funny republican's support Isreal while all the dems are for the brotherhood feel sorry for Isreal as long as Obama is in office

      August 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Will

      Steve, I'd gladly trade 100 educated Muslims for every single Southern, inbred hick we have now.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • skipper Sam

      one am
      1:00am , does any body care what a normal American thinks

      August 10, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Osama

      who cares if Obama is a muslim? You think he wants to kill off the christians???

      August 14, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • DJ

      "Obama letting...."

      Please, give it a rest, man. He, or the US, doesn't control the world, you simpleton

      August 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigDog's 81's

      I think your logic is strange and not at all interesting.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • jumpininit

      Exactly WHICH peace treaties do you refer? Are you really THAT misinformed?

      August 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Renae

      Wrong. The Muslim Brotherhood has agreed to keep all treaties with Israel. But Israel made an unprovoked attack on Egyptian soldiers in order to shut down the Rafah crossing. If anyone wants war here, it is Israel. But maybe Egypt will do a Turkey and submit itself to the humiliation of having its soldiers killed by Zionists so that the military aid will keep flowing.

      August 10, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • john

      Nobody believes it was israel that attacked the egyptian soldiers. This is what islamists do for a living. the world is not as simple as you think.

      August 13, 2012 at 5:01 am | Report abuse |
    • lee s

      what? are you referring to the muslim khanzeera that killed their fellow muslims and stole a jeep to drive into Israel? The American society has a short attention span, but you gotta give it at least 4 weeks.

      August 13, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • AMM

      To deny a people of their democracy, freedom of choice, and right to suffrage, that would utterly demolish the US's image in the Middle East, especially during their Arab Spring, a time of deft attention to liberties and rights, and especially after/during their revolutions that are based upon taking down regimes who obstruct democracy. No I don't find it peculiar at all; I find it wise and rational.

      August 10, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • KEVIN21261

      sith, the Muslim brotherhood never said that it would destroy Israel and it would be suicidal for them to attack Israel. They know the USA will destroy any group who attempts to physically destroy Israel. Let some of them make verbal threats, they are only just that: verbal head games

      August 12, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • some1

      dont worry, muslim brotherhood is just a drama, money can buy anything. Americans are not affraid of it. first card has been played by Qataries, behalf of USA. wait and see and learn

      August 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. blah blah blah

    Obviously tis mary again posting as hope. I just read that by another blogger on another topic and after reading the post just now i must agree. Ive been reading the posts of marys for quite some time and have read some of hopes. 2 very different people.

    August 8, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Misty

    Real men live in Syria, I am as proud of them as I am of our own founding fathers, real men, hard to come by these days. For example, rather than take their own country back that they claim to love so much, Mexican men run and hide in America; hmmmm mice or men?

    August 8, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bobcat (in a hat)©

    @ blah blah blah

    I've got admit it isn't the kind of postings I've witnessed from Hope in the past. So you may very well be correct. But whomever it is, just be aware that the holier than thou attitude doesn't cut it.

    August 8, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. blah blah blah

    Misty, do "real men" kill innocent women and children?

    August 8, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Renae

      @blah blah blah: Dunno, maybe you ought to ask the Pentagon, Congress, and White House about that.

      August 10, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  9. anonymous

    There is nothing that can be said to ease the hell that is war. I'm saddened that these people have been suffered the burden of fighting a war as old as time. I don't claim to know much about what is happening on the other side of the earth or even much about the people there. I do however understand that whatever higher power any of them may chose to follow could not possibly condone killing each other in any manner. In my house growing up my sister and I both were punished for arguing regardless who was right or who started it.

    August 8, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. blah blah blah

    Bobcat, im very aware of that, which convinces me all the more of the identi ty of fake hope. That and certain key words in the posts of that individual that are marys specialty along with her hatred of banasy. No fixin stupid i guess.

    August 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Braxton Hicks

    Mary/Hope: Has banasy been on this thread at all? Why go out of your Christian way to attack someone who isn't here? Phony.

    August 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. blah blah blah

    Cant argue with you there bobcat. Lol all i can add is by doing what shes doing only makes her look ridiculous and makes it impossible to take her serious when she posts as herself. Not to mention the music she will have to face when the real Hope returns

    August 8, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      You said it all right there.

      August 8, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Million D Loss

    Physician, heal thyself. That should be YOUR.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. john

    War is horrible. Muslim crime on muslims. Let them sort things out.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • anahouni

      So that is the christan way!!! In which book of the bible you got that? "The book of Bush & Cheney". Country of sheeps: follow the herd no matter what!!!

      August 9, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
    • john

      The Syria will ask for assistance with one hand and arm against the US with the other. They were not allies before and will not be allies after. America should stay out!

      August 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Renae

      No, this is Western-backed terror campaign to bring down the Assad government, which has long criticized Israel and the US (when it wasn't torturing prisoners at the behest of the US). It splits the alliance between Iran and Syria, leaving Iran isolated and Hezbollah weakened (in the eyes of US policymakers).

      August 10, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • AMM

      War is horrible when one ruthless side picks fights with everyone. War is horrible when you look at Hitler or Genghis Khan. War is honorable when you look at George Washington, at the Libyan rebels, and the Free Syrian Army. Bashaar isn't far off from a dictator like Hitler, nor is he a Muslim. This isn't a fight between Muslims, no, this is a fight between the ruthless and the venerable

      August 10, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BHS

    Let them have at it. Maybe another middleeastern country will fall. It's already a playground for terrorist groups. Just carpet bomb the area and call it a day.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
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