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. chrissy

    @ annahouni, seriously what MORE can anyone say about Syria? Its a mess, we all know its a mess, and theres not a dang thing any of us can do about it! And both sides are guilty, the gov and the rebels!

    August 9, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  2. chrissy

    lmfao @ bobcat, i saw the 666 thing b4 it got deleted. Funny lol. And as you see many of the fakers posts are being deleted, sure sign of a hijacker. And annahouni, you wouldnt be so amused if someone stold your u/n and posted smack under it. Lighten up!

    August 9, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mary

    I had nothing to do with this. I am not Hope and she is not me. Katman don't be mad at me.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. chrissy

    Good night bobcat, im callin it a day. There will be no posts made by me after this one.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  5. terrible_ted

    Our government likes to call them rebels and freedom fighters. Fighting against the tyranny and bloodthirsty al-Assad. When these same people were killing American boys in Iraq, our government called them terrorists.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
  6. Bezboz

    So according to CNN, FSA snipers are kind people, Syrian Army snipers, thugs and killers. Way to go, fairness!

    August 9, 2012 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Jodie

      Of course they are! You didn't expect balanced coverage from these govt puppets did you.

      August 9, 2012 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeb

      Since the Syrian snipers are shooting civilians, yes.

      August 9, 2012 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. frank

    america is staring at syria like a hungry wolf..

    August 9, 2012 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  8. John

    "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."

    These are the people America is now supporting. Pathetic, just pathetic!

    August 9, 2012 at 2:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Bezboz

      Thank you! You get it.

      August 9, 2012 at 3:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrey

      We do not know for shure that indeed were Syrians: could have been under Saudi or Pakistanian supervision as well.

      August 9, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Bailey

      you forget Bin Laden was a 'rebel' friend of the CIA early on.

      August 9, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  9. Rock

    "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."

    This is the long sought evidence that morons are runing US government as well as the media. Sure lets support the rebels and lets make them heros.

    August 9, 2012 at 3:45 am | Report abuse |
  10. krozar

    It's the Syrian Olympics!

    August 9, 2012 at 4:05 am | Report abuse |
  11. Musty

    These " terrorists" who killed Americans in Iraq and below up Iraqis to pieces were supported , trained and funneled into Iraq by Bashar's thugs . Things have changed now by 180 dgs. So where's the problem guys . Truth is relative and periodically shifting. Assad remains a murderer and only somebody who is crazy enough to risk his life will have the courage to fight him.Otherwise this tyrant regime will stay forever.Causing death and havoc to the region (it has killed Lebanese,Palestinians and Iraqis in hundreds of thousands , now the regime killing Syrians). So have no mercy on the regime whoever is bringing it down .

    August 9, 2012 at 5:16 am | Report abuse |
    • mardjan

      These " terrorists" who killed Americans in Iraq and below up Iraqis to pieces were supported , trained and funneled into Iraq by Bashar's thugs .
      Let's decide once and for all of supporting terrorists makes a person a Thug. Because if we are supporting the same people now, doing the same thing that they were doing. for some thug, before, that makes us thugs , too. I am not paying no paycheck to Hillary and Susie to be thugs. I pay them to conduct foreign policy. They have to explain to me then why they are conducting foreign policy like the "thug" they are trying to overthrow.

      August 9, 2012 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. mardjan

    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.
    This is who we are supporting? terrorists who were fighting us in Iraq. I am reassured that this fight is ours! this is what you get when you put two menopausal women in charge that try to make decisions during their hot flushes.

    August 9, 2012 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dave

    Hot summer night in Compton.

    August 9, 2012 at 6:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. joseph

    Any well informed person knows very well that Syria has been invaded by terrorist mercenaries hired by the enemies of of the Syrian people and of president Assad. Also, any well informed person knows very well who those enemies are.

    August 9, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  15. JOSH P

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

    How did the idiot Bush said it again,fool me once,shame on.
    After the lying in Libya,Syrians would total idiots not see what is really going on.

    August 9, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
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