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. yourlacking

    Before these terrorist startes trying to overthrow this stable government syrias christains got along and lived peaceful next to sunni shiate jews etc tje u.s. Embassy was open so american christain and muslims could visit syria bring money clothes goods enjoy syria .. And know syrias government is going throw what u.s government did decades ago when the black panther party tried to overthrow the u.s government. And what did we do? We did exactly what bashar al assad is doing and thats jail kill and arrest those trying to bring destruction to a nation.. At least russia and china can understand the dynamics of the situation and thanks obama for giving 25million of our tax money to the f.s.a that fly al qaeda flags and are aligned with them those funds the u.s media really isnt edcuated on syrian affairs very very sad

    August 8, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. maltesefalconx9

    Who's supporting the Syrian people?
    You and your pal Psycho Petraeous and your murdering death-squad?
    The government they elected is good enough.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. blah blah blah

    @ maltese, doesnt appear that anyone is supporting the syrian people. Not the government nor the free syrian army.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. zak

    It would be better if the people of syria accept this regime, why do so many innocent people have to die? only because bashar al assad want to stay in power. this is the baath party so the numbers of victims doesnt play a role. it has become a civil war

    August 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. chrissy

    The real hope, yes formerly high hopes, is a nice person, so unless she went thru a major transformation recently, shes been hijacked an awful lot lately! And the new version is an awful lot like Mary. And i stress awful.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      Hey chrissy

      How are you doing ? Man did I get sucked up in that one. Let my gaurd down for a minute, and BAM.

      August 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. chrissy

    And i DONT believe that lst post was the real hope at all!

    August 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bobcat (in a hat)©

    All right, let me rephrase my apology.

    Hope, IF that is truly you, the apology stands.
    If it's that other creature again, Kiss my lily white buttock.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      No need to apologize, you didn't do anything wrong. banasy and I have had a falling out and it's all about Syria.

      Iran speaks of an 'Axis of Resistance'.
      As I've always said, they're calling the
      shots in Syria. Assad is gearing up for
      war with a mandatory draft of all men
      between 19 and 42. The only thing that
      is preventing them are the FSA. IF and
      WHEN the resistance is over... prepare
      yourself for fire and brimstone. More
      death than one can possibly imagine.

      Could they do it? Absolutely. Do they
      have the capabilities? Without a doubt!

      I hope I'm wrong,

      August 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mikael

      No, there was not falling out. You disagreed with something she said. It happens. I know banasy very well, and she harbors no resentment towards you, Hope. This is why she doesn't respond when you make disparaging remarks against her. I read that blog, and you took exception to the word she used: bloodthirsty. It may have not been the best word choice, but there you go. As it turns out, the word, although it may have not been the best one to use, was not far off the mark. It is hearting up over there, and it looks as if freedom is coming at too high a price for all.
      Banaasy has not been able to post. This is why I am speaking for her.
      She has no resentment towards you.
      She asks for the same peace that you do.


      August 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Braxton Hicks

    No, Bobcat, you didn't get sucked in. Whoever is posting as Hope is not the same one who appeared here about eight months back. This one deserves what you gave her, and more. Personal attacks is not the sign of the journalist that Hope originally claimed she was. No. This one is phony.

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

    Hey bobcat, you were right on the money. And blah blah blah was too! Hope has been hijacked alot lately and i agree with him on the guilty party. Dont feel bad, you said what you felt and thats what you should do.

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

    What do you hope to accomplish, troll?
    Braxton Hicks.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. chrissy

    Lol see bobcat, hope doesnt call people *bimbettes!* especially not her friends. None of these posts are really her. Not a one of them! And they all smell/stink of Mary!

    August 8, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      Yeah chrissy, I can see clearly now.

      August 8, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. anahouni

    hey why not all Hopes trademark their nicknames in the morning

    August 8, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bobcat (in a hat)©

    Alright then. On that note, let me make this final statement.

    It takes a real lowlife person to spout the kind of venom you do, especially when using the name of someone who is well respected on these blogs.
    You can count that your phony christian mask is going to come back on you, and when it does, you'll be crying.
    A person who claims christianity and acts the way you do, is the most despised person in the world.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. chrissy

    Amen bobcat!

    August 8, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. chrissy

    lol yup bobcat, i knew you would. Whats amazing is the fact that this person thinks shes fooling ANYONE!

    August 8, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
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