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. Hope


    Is it not against the law to exclude one
    from their right to free speech? Or, did
    I wake up in Syria?

    What a mixed up mess; and I am not allowed
    to defend myself?

    Be real careful who you include and who
    you exclude... above all you know the rules.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  2. doug

    Wow, I feel for these people, it is getting be just as dangerous as Chicago and other democrat controlled districts in America over there.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Elvin m

    I just read an article about a rebel comander stating that he will be setting ides which they used to fight americans in irak why should we help them if they claim they fought americans?

    August 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. disgustedvet

    Without obama's much celebrated "Arab Spring " fiasco this story would not be possible. Celebrate eh loonies ?

    August 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Will

    If we had people (I'll avoid using politically loaded terms like 'insergent' and 'protestor' here) behaving the way that these "rebels" are behaving in, say, New York or Washington, how would CNN portray that? They portrayed people who hung out in parks to protest Wall Street as a bunch of rapists and bums, they portrayed people who gathered in Washington to protest the obtrusive government as a bunch of uneducated yokels. How would they portray armed thugs ratching up the level of "resistance" a notch or two?

    The Oligarch-run main stream media in this country are so transparently biased at this point it should be placed in the same category as Pravda and Der Stermer.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. @Hope

    So, bashing posters is free speech? So is their right to defend themselves against YOU.

    Did I mention that your IP address is exactly the same as a certain someone's? No? You're busted.


    August 9, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      Busted for what? Warning you of unimaginable

      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 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      And, please, do tell if your brave; where was fraud committed?


      That should be front page news in Apesville,
      free nanners aren't worth much, these days.


      August 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mikael

      Hope: banasy wishes for peace. I left a message for you on the last page. She cannot post richt now. Peace.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mikael

      Is banasy not a regular? Is not saywhat a regular? Is not Obama Mama not a regular? They are all regulars, and no one deserves a bashing because they disagree with each other. Such is the life on the blogs. Pax.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Elvin m

    We to let god take of this syria mess and start taking care of our own country, now i understand why obama wants nothing to do with the rebel.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry G.

      When Hitler invaded Poland and then executed 6 million innocent Jews, I’m sure there were those who felt that the civilized world should stay out of this and mind their own business.

      Fortunately the civilized world rose to occasion and confronted and put an end to Hitler and his regime.

      “The only thing that needs to happen for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

      August 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nurul Aman

    The world body and the International Court of Justice must act on this atrocities of the Dictator Assad on Syrian civilians. I am surprised to see International court of justice did not yet issue warrant to arrest Assad and bring him to the justice for committing such a crime against humanity. We must stop this evil dictator from killing his own country people without delay.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Elvin m

    We need to let god take of this syria mess and start taking care of our own country, now i understand why obama wants nothing to do with the rebel.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JOSH P

    Another propaganda by a Jew,what-else is new,.I have news for you CIA,Mossad NATO,Audi Qatar pigs ASSAD ain,t going no where,keep bribing and paying mercenaries and international criminals.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • treasure123

      To Josh P, Had you lived in Syria for sometime, you would have understood why syrians are fighting the regime. There is no propaganda here. Brave syrian are facing fully-equiped army to get their freedom. This is not a propaganda. Assad refused to negotiate with his people and used military from the beginning. He needs to leave.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. treasure123

    Here is a list of countries supporting Assad: Iran, Russia, China, North Korea and Venezuela. Wonder why??????

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

      Don't forget Sean Penn. (no he's not a country, but to him he's as important as one).

      August 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Larry

    Steve is a sick puppy for sure – Obama is not a muslim, democrats do not support the muslim brotherhood, and Republicans are only interested is stealing resources for their rich friends. There you go – some truth to chew:)

    August 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. These people are violently killing one another. We've been seeing the news headlines off an on for more years than I care to count. There is not one country in that region which does not place its values on religion higher than on that of human life. Never expect people to care about people who could care less about themselves.

    Just let us know when they're all gone from every corner over there because we could use the room and the resources.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Barry G.

    We can thank Russia and China for supporting Assad and alloowing these attrocities to occur.

    We should expel Russia and China from the league of civilized natioins.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. treasure123

    Bassel Assad's death led to his lesser-known brother Bashar Assad, then undertaking sub-speciality training in ophthalmology in London, assuming the mantle of President-in-waiting. Bashar Assad became President following the death of Hafez Assad on 10 June 2000. This is how Bashar Assad became a president. He is not a legitimate president anyway.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
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