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. Barry G.

    When they put Assad, his generals and his regime on trial at the Hague, they should also put Russia and China on trial, for being complicit in these attrocities.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kevin

    " A city of breadlines and fresh graves". I thought they were talking about Chicago at first.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John M.

    syrians should "Saddam" Assad before he gets a "Gadhafi"

    August 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jonathan

    I thought that city was in THIS country. Maybe in a few months.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ANDY

    should of known from the lead-in that this wasn't going to be a Feel Good story.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dyeagin

    All Assad is doing is fighting a war to keep his country together while other in his country bring in outside fighter to tear it appart. The rebels main go it to dispose of him and turn the country into a Islamic state. If this was a true civil war half the rebel army would not be from other countries. It sounds like most people on here would think Pres Lincoln was in the wrong for starting our own CIVIL WAR

    August 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tryanka Luna

      Wrong for several reasons. There is a lot more than our eyes see, filtered images and texts by media, helping shape a perception of our majority. Bigger players vying and promoting suffering and dying for long term gains of resources be it land for Israel, Oil for Russia, Iranian motives, and much more you can never see or comprehend. Assad, being a minority sect is perfect person for the west to help prolong suffering of innocents, while larger than life players are planning in highest gear of their vulture minds – resources – have always been the root cause of almost all wars in human history.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • treasure123

      To dyeagin, Assad is trying to keep his regime not to fall. He doesn't care about the country. He is a dictator. When did a dictator cared about the wellbeing of the people or the country. Have you ever heard about a president who used artillery and air force against his own cities. That never happened. If you are OK with such methods to deal with your people, then you need to reconsider.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. HEY CNN

    There is a glitch in your mobile version that is preventing many bloggers from posting. Please fix this. It has prevented many posters from posting since yesterday. I will go elsewhere if this is not corrected post haste. Thank you.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jbird68

    Breadlines and graveyards- Where we will be if we let Mittens in to the white house.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. reality check

    So, when they all kill each other off, who's going to clean up that stinkhole?

    August 9, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. treasure123

    To Joseph, Ghadafi used al-qaida card to get support from the west. He failed. He was lying. How can you believe assad. He is a dictator. Those are syrians who want freedom from such dictatorship.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mikael

    Banasy has no resentment towards you. She cannot post right now, which is why I am responding for her. You took and exception to a word she4 used. It may have been the wrong word to use, but in light of all of the recent events that have been unfolding, it may not have been too far off the mark for ALL concerned.
    She wishes peace for Syria.
    She wishes for peace, period.
    She also asks one more time to quit using her first name, as she would be using it if that is what she wanted to do.
    Please respect her wishes.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. libsrtyrants

    Don't be puzzled. It's pretty straightforward.
    Liberals currently run our foreign policy. Our highest state department officials have obvious ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

    It is as it appears. Liberals are joined to Islam, against the west. Although they'll murder Muslims when it's convenient and politically expedient for them.

    What could possibly go wrong with that foreign policy?

    August 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Pliny

    What is Al Pacino doing in Syria???

    August 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. frank

    they need food stamps like the free loaders do in this country

    August 9, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Muhammad

    PRAISE BE TO ALLAH!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
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