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. NorCalMojo

    You mean civil war isn't as romantic and glorious as they thought it would be?

    Who would have thought it?

    August 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jack hayden

    Dear President al-Assad,

    My name is Jack Hayden. I am 14 years old from Montreal, Canada.

    I am writing you because I feel the things you are doing in Syria are wrong.

    You probably think I do not have the right to send you a letter about a place I have never been to.I am not Syrian; I am not even from the Middle East.But I do have the right to address you as I also live in this world and I have the responsibility to do what I can to make the world a better place to live in for everyone.

    A place that people can live in without fear.I am bothered that you have refused to let people have the right to protest and express their feelings, refuse to let them gather to discuss their futures, arrest people who have different opinions than yours, label Syrian citizens as “foreign terrorists” if they even raise their voices in opposition to you.

    I am very disturbed (as every citizen of our planet should be) that you beat, jail, torture, shoot and kill people. Especially people my age who just want to have a normal and free life.

    I, as a citizen of the world, demand that you step down as President of Syria, stop killing people and allow them to have the freedom they deserve.

    For the people of Syria, I plead with you to not let President Kennedy’s quote become reality in Syria:
    "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." (John F. Kennedy – In a speech at the White House, 1962)

    PLEASE RESIGN AND LET THE PEOPLE OF SYRIA LIVE IN PEACE!

    Sincerely,Jack

    August 9, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ken

    Dictator or not. A secular state is always better than an Islamic state. The West should be helping root out the terrorists in the rebel camps, they will have to anyway once the regime is ousted and will be taken over by Islamists.

    August 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Just a question to all Americans

    How do you like looking at al Quada as heroe now. Or at least being forced to look at. Them as heroes. LOL

    August 9, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Matt

    There is a reason the modern military uses precision munitions, the PR is to limit civilian casualties, but the military reason is that all strikes are backed by intelligence so even large disproportionate barrages are strategically directed. The black shelling as Assad has done, like wars of the past. Just create ambush sites, sniper hides. Like with Fallujah or Marjah the main battle it the first phase, the second phase is holding the ground. Now we do this for different reasons us a COIN doctrine, Assad to conduct genocide. After the initial battle for Marjah, in which there was a strict ROE, it was around 6 months of holding before we saw the results. That was not fully urban. In guerrilla warfare the initial battle, it not the main phase. As a sniper due to the destruction and local knowledge of the destruction, holes in walls etc, etc. You can fire a shot and then relocate blocks with in minutes to another hide. Five to six officers, NCO's, medics radio operators a day, per sniper.

    August 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      It does not sound impressive 5 to 6 per day but that is 42 dead officers, NCO, radio operators, medics per week, 168 per month. In 6 months 4368 strategic targets. That is just one sniper very soon the occupation of Aleppo will stretch the regimes strategic depth.

      August 9, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Seriously?

    People are fighting and dying and some of the posters here are broadcasting their petty personal squabbles? Oh, right... this is America.

    August 9, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. RT

    your comments are misinformed. Bobcat!

    August 9, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. terrible_ted

    The Saudies along with help from other Middle Eastern royal families that are friendly to the Western Powers have decided that it's time for this regions wakeup call. Along with other dictators/despots already removed, it has been decided that al Assad and The Mullahs have gotta go.

    First were taking Damascus, then it's time to steamroll into to Tehran. The decisions have been made by modern, educated, wealthy Arabs and Persians. The pinheads running these countries for so long, and forcing the citizens to live in poverty are to be yesterdays news.

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

      you do realize that "saudi arabia" and "qatar" are intact dictatorship countries.

      August 12, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. Crimes by rebels

    CNN USES PROPAGANDA TO MAKE YOU THINK THAT THE ASSAD REGIME IS EVIL AND THAT THEY ARE KILLING INNOCENT CIVILIANS. THIS IS A LIE. THESE GANGS ARE ARMED BY THE WEST, QATAR AND SAUDI ARABIA. THEY ARE THE ONES WHO ARE KILLING CIVILIANS.

    DON'T BELIEVE CNN. DON'T LET THEM FOOL YOU. YOU ONLY SHOW THE REBEL'S SIDE OF THE STORY. GO TO PRESS.IR AND RT.COM TO GET A FAIR VIEW OF THE SITUATION IN SYRIA.

    CNN = SERVES AND WORKS FOR THE US GOVERNMENT

    August 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • LR

      We don't see it that way at all. The government suck, as do the Islamist who have infiltrated a formerly Nobel cause. You apparently knw NOTHING about the United States, and it's people.

      August 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • informed californian

      ive been paying attention alo longer than the western media has been, and i can tell you from the very begining it has been the assad regime supressing its people with horrible violence. the very first accounts were from the people of syria through social media outlets. the personal accounts of the everyday syrian informed me of the wrongdoings, not CNN or any other media outlet controlled by govt's. kids with their heads blown off is not propaganda from cnn, thats real life from the people in syria, since 2010.

      August 10, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill Duke

      Your Pro-Assad propaganda shilling isn't fooling anyone but you.

      August 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chinaman imposters

      I hate it when these Chinese imposters try to immitate Americans and support the bad guys like Assad.

      August 10, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Islamwillmaketheworldburn

      Are you high sir? Or perhaps as a youth you watched Mel Gibsons, "Conspiracy Theory" one too many times?

      August 12, 2012 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  10. Chinaman imposters

    What???????

    August 10, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  11. Southernsugar

    Wedeman, stay safe! We appreciate all of your efforts at reporting the story, but stay safe.

    August 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ben

    Oh CNN, you are so brave.

    August 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Wow

    "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."

    Wow. Why are we supporting this?

    August 10, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tyler W.

      I was thinking the exact same thing. Why would be rooting for a faction when they were killing our soldiers in Iraq?

      August 11, 2012 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
    • g

      exactly

      August 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • cyg

      what exactly do you think would have happened to a Sunni based army that disbanded and didn't want to live under an American hand? Where would you go if America was invaded and you didn't like what happened? Would you stay? Go to Canada, and perhaps fight another day? Or at least go where you felt you had an ally? That is what they did...you aren't wrapping your brain around how complicated it is – there are other side to war other than America's.

      August 12, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. KEVIN21261

    Every wacko extreemists in the ME are flooding into Syria now. All hell is going to break out as soon as Assad falls and there will be nothing anyone can do about it. Get Ready

    August 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. US_Eurolad

    I -marvel- at how we are supporting the fall of "dictators" (read, religious moderates) to prop up radical fundamentalists and Islamists and the stupid American sheep say NOTHING. Nothing. Mubarak and Al-Assad were some of the most religiously moderate leaders and the BEST answer we have is radical Islam. Reaaaaalllly? Is the West now that in the pocket of Zionists that nobody even asks anymore?

    August 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • US_Eurolad

      Followup- Are we looking to start a holy war? It certainly seems that way whether you support Israel or Muslims, this cannot be the best answer...

      August 10, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
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