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. melvin polatnick

    Soldiers in Assad’s army have no choice except to fight on to victory. Alawite surrender to the Saudi Wahhabi invaders will lead to the painful death of Assad’s soldiers and their families. A merciful surrender agreement can allow the defeated to become honorary members of the Wahhabi cult; it will spare the lives of Assad and his non-believers.

    August 16, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • WOTAN

      until next time.

      August 16, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dick Diamond

      You are so correct. It's the continuation of a religious war going on for over 1000 years. Whoever wins will slaughter every one on the other side. If this is an "eye for an eye," all Syrians will be blind when this is over.

      August 16, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Name*Robert

    It's beginning to resemble a turkey shoot in aleppo.

    August 16, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. truthordare7

    What do you mean 'nobody imagined it would turn into this." Look around the damn ME and you should have known it was coming because that is part of who you are. You either create problems in other communities or within yourself and it is a cycle you repeat and rinse every few decades. Muslims have problems with Christains, Jews, Hindus, Zoraetarians, Pagans, Buddhists and any other communities that is not muslim. Even between Muslims is a painful existence. It is high time muslims look at themselves in the mirror and seriously consider maybe it is YOU who is the problem. The only time there is somewhat of a peace is when it is under dictatorship as democracy is a joke in the Islamic countries. At least, under dictatorship, women get a little bit more freedom and minorities don't have to fear as much.

    August 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • leo

      Christians have the same problems. Maybe we should do away with organized religion all together?

      August 16, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • WOTAN

      This is what happens when you produce 500 million people for life in a desert that can only sustain 200 million – they get on each others nerves – not enough resources for good jobs, etc. You might think other heavily populated global regions are not as violent as the ME – take a glance at Africa, and don't kid yourself that India and China don't have their issues – they just pick on other people in other countries. Maybe China but not India, then why are Sihk India-ns running off to the USA – no opportunities over there? why? 1.5 billion people in a place 1/3 the size of the USA? Please get a grip on overpolulation and the problems they cause, then, get a grip on the reality that 'co-existence' is never going to happen.

      August 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil College Man

      This is a great comment. Glad to see someone knows what is going on. I just wish there was a way that the middle east would agree with you, we'd have a better world and a lot less death. Maybe the Arab Spring will calm down and people will start to see it is not worth this and co-habitat. That is wishful thinking however. Maybe with time truthordare7, maybe with time.

      August 16, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dick Diamond

      The author of the story, Ben Wedemann didn't know that there was gambling at Rick's either.

      August 16, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Taskmaster

      truthordare7 I agree with you 100%. Muslims do not want to co-exist with other people.They want dominate everyone and will be satified with nothing less.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. 2/8

    Kind of looks like 80% of U.S. cities.....

    August 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Eholl

    Dallas takes drastic action to control West Nile Virus because it has killed 10 people this summer. When are they going to take drastic actions about guns too. My guess is that many more people have died from gunshot wounds in the same time frame. Let's get real Anerica!!

    August 16, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rod G

    I don't see why the United States was willing to participate with NATO in enforcing a no-fly zone over Egypt, and also assisting with air patrols over Libya, but we won't lift a finger to help the Syrian rebels who are being slaughtered.

    August 16, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Hope

    Turn, Turn, Turn...

    His own Prime Minister says:
    Assad is an "Enemy of God".

    God is Great,

    August 16, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Melvin Painter

    obama created the middle east chaos and violence, what a great guy.

    August 16, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexander

      and how did he do that exactly. What power does he really have. Im pretty sure Obama pulled our troops out of Iraq for a war he didn't start. He might not be the best president we ever had but don't blame a man in power who wasn't around when all of this started. With your statement I might as well blame Obama for my cat knocking over my daughters sea monkeys.

      August 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • stanton


      August 16, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Modisenyane

    The media is responsible for creating a false impression that the carnage and stupidity going on in the Middle East resembles a revolution. Look at the before and after pictures and you will see that so e cruel and jealous people, a cartel maybe, is sitting somewhere ensuring that the Middle East never takes advantage of its natural resources. Next thing we see will be big US or European construction companies rebuilding the infrastructure in return for iol. It's such a shame!

    Modisenyane South Africa

    August 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Andy

    This guy sounds kinda like double rainbow guy...

    August 17, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. maltesefalconx9

    Petraeous must stop his random shelling and surrender to the War Crimes Tribunal.
    No Amerikan general is above the law. The slaughter of the Syrian people must stop.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  12. Faher

    I am Syrian, it's funny how some ignorant people, who already have a problem with other religion, start to blame everything on religion, well, let me tell you something dear, Bashar Al Assad and his family don't have any morals, and they don't follow islam or any other religion, although they belong to the Alawite, and plus in Syria we were probably the best country in term of intolerance, we used to live door by door with different religion or language or tribe...come on i live here in USA and i see how some people kill sikhs or burn mosque or take the cover of a muslim women....don't fool your self, your kids are playing all the war games everyday, you just need a bad regime who kills his own people for the sake of money and the way, this regime is destroying churches, mosques, schools, hospitals, homes, farms, killing people, and even animals. oh i believe these animals are extremist....these people needs help now, rather than blaming them for being born in the middle east where everybody want to have a share of the oil or the land.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. asitis

    as sad as it sounds , muslims killing muslims means their to busy to kill us

    August 17, 2012 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
  14. sigmond seamonster

    Bob Wedeman is a struggling actor trying to get a break in Media. He has been on 3 shows in the past 6 years. That's all he has done. He was on Charlie Rose for 2 "episodes", ANderson Cooper for 1 "episode", and CNN Saturday morning for 1 "episode". He apparently needs money and is willing to drive around in some place no one in America is willing to care about as he claims "some sniper" is "shooting" at him. He is an ACTOR with an AGENTt.

    August 17, 2012 at 3:37 am | Report abuse |
  15. Thunder

    This is what happens when "REBELS" take their fight to city streets, there is no recourse to fight the cowards hiding behind civilians, and you have to expect collateral damage. The peaceful citizens need to stand up to the "REBELS" and get them to take their fight out of the city.......Its not the citizens fighting , realize this its outside "rebels" wanting to take control of the country, not set it free.....

    August 17, 2012 at 4:35 am | Report abuse |
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