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. Joshua

    That's right – the media have blood on their hands.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. melvin polatnick

    Saudi crime fighters are needed, they will stone to death Sharia Law breakers. Those applying for the job must go to the Riyadh Mosque to receive a bag of stones.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. steve

    And when all of the rebels and their families are dead, we will stand back and ask how this could happen. The answer is so easy though, we did nothing to stop it.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And why should we? So they can then turn around and blame us because it didn't resolve an Islamic utopia due to sectarian viloence? No thanks. Over and over again the ME has called for the 'west' to stay out of thier affairs...fine.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • jake lucas

      If I was to gather a group of individual together and we were to arm ourselves with military type weapons and go and tell the government that I don't want the current officals in office any longer and began to kill members of the administraion; what do you think would happen? The government of the United States of America would not allow a foreign country to arm the citizens, nor would it tolerate the bombing by another nation, and those involved would meet the fate so violent and swift that most would cheer the governmnt not the "rebels"

      August 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. sigmond seamonster

    Ben Wedeman ihas only had three jobs in the Media in the past 6 years. He worked on CNN Saturday for one "episode", two "episodes" on Charlie Rose, and one "episode"on Anderson Cooper. He has not been so sucessful in his acting Profession. He "Says" he lived in Aleppo but does anyone know for sure? Ben Wedeman is an ACTOR who has an AGENT and needs money. And he is contributing to the SALES PITCH of WAR via the Media to the American Public.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jim

    I knew it ..... Isaiah 17

    August 16, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. African Child

    I guess I can remember this face very well during the Libyan civil war standing in front of rebels flashing the V-finger and shouting on top of their voices Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!! as NATO planes pound Libyan soldiers and infrastructure last year.
    Now he has been transfered to Syria to market another war to the American ignorant public. But this time his product doesnt seem to be selling very well and the maggot infested vegetables is rottening in his hands.
    Sorry Ben, you may have to go and get another job before you get hit like that one eyed woman Marie Covin in Syria.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Lol.. So the American public is ignorant and was sold a war… but now this one is not selling. Does that mean the American public is no longer ignorant or was your first assessment wrong?

      August 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DR. Zuess

    It's funny how the Assad propagandists on here think is a real news organization. Same with SANA. Every morning when those websites followers visit, they are getting their cultist sermon of distorted reality from the respective governments. They're so brainwashed that when Syria eventually has democratic elections, they will be totally surprised! What happened! Reality happened. Welcome back.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melvin Painter

      Where did you get your information that the Muslim Brotherhood was going to have elections?

      August 19, 2012 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Ekram

      Hey Dr. Zuess, the same can be said about CNN, Al-Jazeera and other media outlets.....why anyone should believe everything when things are reported by these media outlets?

      August 20, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Everyday some scrub posts that CNN is bias for ether the Republicans/Democrats/Jews/Muslims or w/e group the poster doesn’t like. The difference between CNN and a state run media or Fox is, Fox/state run groups are always accused of supporting one side were as CNN is accused of supporting all sides. So who is likely to be the more unbiased?

      August 20, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. Walrus Mustache

    The Syrian people use the war and chaos to settle family feuds and get one up on each other. Muslims are goddless and violent. I say let the violence continue untill the Syrian people are sick of it and maybe they will persue the path of peace a little harder next time.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jack

    It could be a tough work for the reporter to go inside the Syria as the city are now in a critical status. I was wondering did they own any Kechara Protection Chakras before go into the Syria ?

    August 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. clark1v

    what do you mean "nobody would have imagined" ... we have been warning against Islam just as we warned against Communism ... historical evidence leads to accurate predictions.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Walrus Mustache

    I'm really sick of the Arab world and all the fighting. The world just doesn't care anymore. This goes for Isreal as well. If you don't like death and destruction, find a different way. Ghandi freed India from the British and very little violence happened. Peacful non-cooperation is the way to change and peace. Live by the sward, die by the sward.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jerry Pelletier

    Arabs have been trying to govern themselves for thousands of years and have failed miserably up to the current date!
    They will never be able to govern themselves!

    August 16, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Marc Jansen

    This is all that we envisioned from the middle east and its dictators! Where did you get such a liberal view of killers? Oh yea!

    August 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Julia

    I saw Ben reporting from Tunisia, Egypt (extensively) Libya and now Syria. Where have you all been? Oh yes... under a rock. The comments on this forum are an outrage.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • DR. Zuess

      It's because there's 4 or 5 paid propagandists with 30 or so user names getting paid to post non-proveable/non-factual stuff on here to try to sway people that either have no common sense or are casual readers. The thing they don't realize is that most casual readers still have an IQ over 60 here.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Scott B

    All countries eventually turn into that. Tends to happen far quicker when you have absolute rulers in place.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
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