August 16th, 2012
07:18 AM ET

CNN inside Syria: Nobody imagined it would turn into this

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, who used to live in Aleppo, has spent time over the past two weeks in the 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. Read more from CNN inside Syria.

What we saw during our trips in Aleppo were not images of the city I knew: The shelling, the snipers, the destruction. I never imagined this city would be standing in the middle of warfare. Nobody imagined it would turn into this.

Some parts of Aleppo are complete battle zones. Shells and rubble litter the streets. Cars are blown to pieces.

This beautiful city is where we raised my daughter for her first years from 1990 to 1993. When I was at work my wife went everywhere shopping with my daughter and going to markets.

As we drove quite close to the neighborhood where I used to live, one in government control, I took a quick look and noticed it looked mostly the same. I quickly refocused, concerned for our safety. A government checkpoint was coming up on the right.

Photos: Showdown in Syria

The shelling here is constant and random and government forces seemingly go from neighborhood to neighborhood each day. On our first night in Aleppo, I didn't sleep more than 15 minutes because of the constant bombardment.

It's almost like it’s a different city that I lived in 20 years ago. Physically it’s the same, but the physical resemblance is it. Otherwise, it is unrecognizable. Many of the main features of Aleppo, including the Old Citadel, still stand strong, even if they've been hit or crumbled a bit.

While some parts of town are in ruins, in others, people are still just trying to live and survive.

More: Struggling for survival

In Al-Sha'ar we saw open air markets where people were selling vegetables. You wouldn’t know by being there that there's a war going on. Then about 500 meters off the street an air force jet begins bombing and strafing.

Some people stopped and stared, others went into doorways and took cover, but for the most part traffic went on and people were buying and selling vegetables.

Aleppo is still a city of many million people and despite everything a lot of them are just trying to feed their families. That's why they are out selling food, in the midst of bombings, to try to make ends meet. But with food prices quadrupling and barely anyone working, there's no money to be found here. So even though there is food, many can't afford it.

More from inside Syria: Snipers, stairwells and graveyards

The shelling and bombardment has become a background track that many residents have grown used to. Growing up in Lebanon during the civil war was the same. As a gunbattle raged on, three blocks away you'd never know it. Eventually, the noise blends in.

But as we drive through the city, the smell is what sticks out. An acrid smell of burning garbage follows you wherever you go. There's no garbage collection and residents are left to burn it themselves or in some neighborhoods gather it for a collective burn. The streets remain uncleaned, with sidewalks and streets sandy and gritty.

Driving through these streets, the transformation of Aleppo from a beautiful city to a war zone is jarring. Jets strafing and bombing Aleppo was something I never thought I'd see. But for those who are living here, this is the reality. They will try to find money and food however they can, all the while dodging shelling and trying to keep their families safe.

Whether they support the rebel efforts or are just trying to remain unbiased, one thing is clear: This is no longer the Aleppo that they or I had come to know and love. The question now is what will it look like when this all ends?

More from Ben Wedeman inside Syria:

Life and death in Aleppo: He wasn't a fighter or a revolutionary. But 45-year-old Hassan, a shopkeeper, died from a sniper's bullet.

Snipers, stairwells and graveyards: Two days inside Aleppo

How to sneak into a war zone: To get in and out of Aleppo, it helps to have a Plan B. And maybe a Plan C and D.

soundoff (208 Responses)
  1. Bob

    Hardly shocking – after all close to 40% of Fallujah was reduced to rubble during the US forces reduction of that city during the Iraq war. The only reason we, the public, did not see it at the time was that the 'journalists' remained obediantly embedded with the US forces outside the city and strangely did not infiltrate ( or could not infiltrate ) to get any direct information of what the bombardment was doing to the city and its population. There are thus a lot of questions in regards journalistic consistency and integrity, real control of journalist as we hear the consistent mantra in the case of Syria that they do not have free access ( yet in Iraq when they had 'free access' they seemingly never used it), and why what is acceptable on one hand is somehow horrific on the other. There seems to be a basic lack of clear principle.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      More like someone with an axe to grind. Of course cities take great punishment during wars. Have you ever opened a history book? This is only shocking news to people with the ‘I never thought it happen to me’ mentality.

      August 20, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  2. vinnieG

    Great! If rebellion succeed and they achieve freedom and democracy, it just make it more meaningful and enduring. It must cost at least 50k to 100k lives so they know what freedom means.

    August 19, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ekram

    I have noticed lately CNN keep censuring my comments by not publishing it what we call freedom of expression? I call this controling of freedom of expression!

    August 20, 2012 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And I call it ignorance… on your part. Read the terms of use.

      August 20, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • CapitalP

      Private companies don't have to grant you freedom of expression on their website. Comprende?

      August 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. melvin polatnick

    Fighting in Syria is a battle between two elements of moral behavior, both are repressive. Only progressive mindsets can create a new order and restore peace. Millions of Ecstasy pills dropped on Syrian cities will cause new behavior patterns. Sharia Law will not be wanted by Syrians high on Meth-Viagra. Sunni, Shi`ite, Alawite, and Christians can hug and kiss. The Ecstasy pill will be displayed on the nation’s flag and saluted by fun loving patriots.

    August 20, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Jannette HInde

      what tripe your comments are . . . This is terrible ie what is happening to human beings in syria those who are just trying to exist and have the freedom to some extent that we have in the west and something ought to be done by those in the free west who have the power to do something other than nothing which is what is happening at the moment David Cameron or The President of America or those with some sort of authority to stop this blood shed daily and gone on TOO L O N G NOW PLEASE stop what is happening in SYRIA – AND this and my saying . . . IF NOT NOW . . . WHEN PLEASE

      September 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. aspblopm

    "But not everyone in Aleppo and its rural hinterland is happy with the Free Syrian Army rebels, some saying their vigilante operations are often barely disguised vendettas and that they are arrogant and interfering.

    "If they don't like the actions of a person they tie him up, beat him and arrest him," said a man who identified himself as Abu Ahmed in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo.

    "We are not just a fighting army," he said. "We are also a group with a vision for reform, we want to bring back morality and civilization to our country.""We use Sharia (Islamic law) to judge our prisoners," Ahmed says in Azaz. "We use a number of judges who are have studied Islamic law and a number of witnesses and judge them accordingly." from a Financial Times article.

    August 20, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. sdib1980

    Didn't imagine it would turn into this? Perhaps you may need to catch up no some prophecy. Although I expect this to happen in Damascus – Isaiah 17:1. This is nothing and sadly for the people it is only the beginning of their troubles.

    August 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. South Westport

    Glenn Beck foretold this would happen.

    August 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • CapitalP

      On his magic chalkboard? How about the gold collapse that will happen in the next 2-3 years?

      August 21, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. volsocal

    CNN op-eds are extremely biased. Do you believe that the "hard news" provided by CNN is somehow immune? Remember, it is not just how they report, but what they report that demonstrates their bias.

    August 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Greg

    Around 700BC the prophet Isaiah said "the remnant of Syria will be like the glory of the children of Israel." Israel was attacked, many were killed, they were scattered and forced into slavery, their wealth and land divided.

    "the remnant" lets us know many will be killed and only a few remain. We will soon see Damascus cease to be a city and it will become a heap of ruins.

    This was prophesied 2700 years ago and is no surprise.

    August 22, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. wednesday

    Yeah nobody imagined except that woman Klintone.Right,

    September 5, 2012 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. NutGrinder

    They start a civil war and then are shocked... SHOCKED when people get hurt and die.... hah how dumb can anyone get? 7 Billion people and counting.... why should i care.

    September 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. paki

    muslim killing muslims !!!! for what ?

    September 9, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. nibiro

    It is in Isaiah 17:1:
    "The burden against Damascus.
    “Behold, Damascus will cease from being a city,
    And it will be a ruinous heap."

    September 15, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Shaun Donaldson

    Within this complex war zone with its many victims, newspeople (including their drivers and guides) like Ben Wederman are risking their own lives on a daily basis. As a consequence, journalists and photographers have lost their lives when working and reporting within such areas of conflict around the World. We should acknowledge their sacrifies too as well as their families. I, like many who witness this carnage on our screens, fervently hope that some sort of workable resolution occurs soon.

    March 25, 2013 at 7:36 am | Report abuse |
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