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. Matt

    Cheer up son, freedom is not free.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • JonathanA


      August 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bill

    Not a good situation........not sure how this war could have been avoided. But hopefully it ends soon..........and the death count doesn't rise too much. Unreal how people are able to come up with resolutions based on the short atricle above, lol

    August 16, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    Regarding the shrapnel and fear video. There seems to be surprise that hospitals are perhaps targets. This unfortunately has for some time been a trend, the most recent examples of which are to be found in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just from memory I am aware of the following in Iraq: US bombing of the Nazzal Emergency Hospital in Fallujah, US bombing of the small hospital in Rutbah, US bombing of the Red Crescent Maternity hospital in Bahgdad, US bombing of the Al Yarmouk hospital in Bagdhad. In addition, strikes against clearly marked ambulances were recorded. The underlying problem is the moral relativism applied – which seems to suggest that if we do it it is OK, if other countries who are not our friends do it it is a war crime. If one wants to eliminate this abhorrant activity we must abide by the same prescription and punish those of ours responsible – in which case other nations may take us seriously and not consider us hypocrites. Do as I say but not as I do is not a principled morally sustainable position.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Peter


      There is a big difference. If the enemy is firing at you from a school, hospital etc.. then it isnt a war crime to return fire.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • drastic

      Bob – the reasons those hospitals were hit was because terrorists were using them to stage attacks and retreating to them once they were pursued. It is the same for ambulances that they were being used to ferry weapons and terrorists. It would be much better if you tried to see both sides of an issue instead of deliberately ignoring the facts to make your point.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DocReality

    Really, Ben? You never imagined it could get worse? When's the last time you opened a history book? This is what happens in countries where Islam is the law of the land. You may have had a delightful time raising your family in Syria but the REALITY is it's a country which has been filtering terrorist activities for years.

    Of course, you and your employer will probably wind up spinning this whole disaster as the "Syrian Spring," eventually. Yeah, just like Egypt, with their newly-elected Muslim Brotherhood democracy. Please. It's like you might as well move your family to Mecca or Tehran and work for al-Jazeera t.v.

    You're a disgrace.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • JOSH P.

      Really,was is it Islam who started both WW as well and killed hundred of millions,was it Islam who slaughter the Native American,steal their Gold,forced them to convert at gunpoint or be killed.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No Josh that was Islam’s older brother Christianity. But your comment begs the question… why are you trying to shift the blame?
      (p.s. the ‘native’ Americans were not some innocent victim. They were people with their own primitive religions like those who conquered them. They were weak..they were defeated. It’s happened countless times in history. Get over it)

      August 20, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. Hitman

    War is a fundamental form of life in the middle east!

    August 16, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  6. SovietUnion

    I remember this reporter from Libya. He likes show. He staged his run away and made it look like someone was shooting on him and his crew. This video was on Toytube.There was a Libyan standing outside and talking on the phone, when this "actor" Ben Wedeman jumped in to the car and with exactly same face told driver to get Hell out of there. His reports are all biased and luck of real analyses, just a drama. "OMG" what a distruction!!!

    August 16, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  7. Robert Mabey

    Sadness to know we are have not found a way of resolving tribalism for the benefit of humanity

    August 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. josh rogen

    did you think when Obama's secret police (CIA) started funneling weapons and advisers into Syria that things would get better?

    August 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bezboz

      I just said something similar. The bulk of the money is actually coming form the oil-rich Wahabis and Salafis in Saudi and Qatar.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • wherly

      that all pure speculation if you have no prove then shut up

      August 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bezboz

    BS that nobody thought it wouldn't turn out this way. What did you think when a bunch of Islamists take up arms? They go bird hunting???

    August 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. wherly

    i think its time that nato moves in or at least set up a save haven for the women and children who do not deserve this brutality the heck with wat the russians or chinese think that is not right in gods eyes what is happening there

    August 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. RLTJ's

    Many months ago, or was it last year, I had hoped here that rebels and Syrian government would do their thing in the desert sands.

    Everybody knew it would turn into this.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Highly Motivated

    This war is stupid he people will end up with nothing. The gvoernment will end up with a lot of people in worse shape than when they started.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rabbit One

    o i imagined it alright – what did anyone think would happen

    August 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. reaganrepub

    pass the popcorn. munch, munch

    August 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. P4Persepective

    What? You mean this isn't what Anderson Cooper had in mind when he was walking the streets in Syria, riling up the protesters, talking about an Arab Spring? AC and CNN bare some culpability in lighting this fire.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You over estimate their influence…greatly. Somehow I don’t see them having the same affect in NYC.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Babylon


      What? You mean this isn't what Anderson Cooper had in mind when he was walking the streets in Syria, riling up the protesters, talking about an Arab Spring? AC and CNN bare some culpability in lighting this fire.

      You are blaming Anderson Cooper for Syrian spring ?

      August 16, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
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