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. Regalo

    There is no doubt that this crisis in Syria is reflection of the failed foreign policy of Obama. His irresponsible call for Assad to step down and encourage "Sunni Rebels" to kill and cause destruction puts the blame for deaths of the innocents on him.
    The United States should have called for the rebels to dialogue and not bullets. It is irresponsible to consider Assad to step down when the fate of the minorities are inexorably connected to Assad's fate. Bring in a Sunni majority and bloodshed will follow. This will happen for one reason only- extremism in the name of religion will force chaos in order to justify terror.
    Stop the support, and the bullets will stop, and dialogue will take place

    August 18, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • drkent3

      There is no doubt that either the regime would continue to oppress its citizens, or it would kill anyone and everyone to stay in power. Dialog was attempted – if you actually were paying attention. It was the Assad regime that pretended to engage in dialog early on, while sending the military in to 'crush' the rebellion. Sorry, I don't buy what you are selling...

      August 19, 2012 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      Thank you China, Russia, and Assad for ruining a normal country.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Mikeg

      I'm afraid you know nothing about the Assad regime if you think there's any use in dialogue. Blaming Obama for that murderous regime would be laughable if it wasn't so sad.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel

      Yeah right , and if he doesn't do this and Iran invades the middle east and disrupt the peace in the region , then whose fault will it be ? i'm certain the entire world will blame it on the US and NATO for not doing something about it , Obama is doing what he can to solve it , and if you think solving this problem can be done peacefully then you're hallucinating , plus based on your words and how you're defending Assad and his regime , can honestly say that you're most likely one of his minions .

      August 19, 2012 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
    • NKS

      That's a very ignorant statement. Do you not realize that the Syrian people did not pick up arms until 8 months of unarmed peaceful protests? Do you not realize that they never said "no" to dialogue but only if Assad stops shooting protestors first, which he never did stop? Do you not realize that while the protestors were getting shot unarmed, Iran and Russia were sending him more arms in order to finish the job? The rebels only picked up arms after thousands were killed and or detained. Assad has to go and the only way is by force.

      August 19, 2012 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Harry Kermet

      You are one of the few who defend and support dictatorships in suppressed countries like Syria. You are an idiot to think Assad would sit and have a "dialoge" with rebels. You are either an Assad-supporter living in Syria or a Republican here in Americal. Either way, you are LAME and most likely you have no credentials to give criticism to President Obama.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. maltesefalconx9

    Hey, is this Ben Wideman goon a "reporter"? Ha, at least that's one dirty, rotten traitor they got rid of.
    Then again, he is jewish, right? That's probably why he has no sense of loyalty to his own native country.
    It's the same thing in the Amerika. Goldman Sachs? You know.
    How about Taylor Swift's sudden new boyfriend/husband whatever. Jewish, naturally. What a country!
    Oy vay, whatever that means. None of the above.

    August 18, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • ug


      August 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • drkent3

      Astounding how many paid goons show up on these blogs.

      August 19, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  3. stephen douglas

    Hmmm....Members of the religion of peace and tolerance murdering other members of the religion of peace and tolerance.

    The whole world is concerned about the atrocities in Syria. Syria is surrounded by other countries full of members of the religion of peace and tolerance. So, why are those countries not going in and offering to set things straight? Why should the U.S. send in it's young men and women and waste TAXPAYER DOLLARS on yet another sand box of a country where they will use us, then turn on us?

    Simple – because those countries use oil as leverage to get our fearless leaders to commit our country to going in and cleaning up their messes. We send billions of TAXPAYER DOLLARS to countries like Egypt, Israel, Syria, Jordan and others and they buy weapons with that money from American manuafacturers- jets, tanks, missles, rifles, you name it. So, ultimately, our TAXPAYER DOLLARS just line the pockets of military suppliers and the politicians who use insider trading to invest in them.

    We need to get out and stay out of the middle east. We need to drill for oil here in the States while we develop alternative energy sources with one goal – to get free of the stranglehold the arrogant dictators of the middle east have on our country with their oil.

    And, we cut off the ridiculous amounts of aid being dumped into these countries which is actually extortion money used to keep everyone armed to the teeth, preventing any one of them from overrunning their neighbors.

    August 18, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • NKS

      Assad is not a Muslim. Why do you people make dumb statements without reading the news first. Assad's army has been deliberately destroying mosques, burning Qur'ans, and forcing their detained citizens proclaim "There is no god but Bashar". He is an athiest and his clan are anti-Islam and anti-religion.

      August 19, 2012 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. Kim

    Great job Ben and crew! Amazing footage!

    August 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jeff Davis

    Barry and Hillary can be real proud of themselves.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  6. Sichanh Thammavongsa

    who will build the syria next ? so fighting in the city is harder than fighting in the bush or mountain and if I were a rebel in syria,now, I would rather fight at night and use a lot of human decoy to confuse the sniper so I had fought in the bush for four year during khmer rouge regime most of the time was at night so the AK 47 flashed from different direction and I was 17 at the time, but I carried the good buddhas with me so body could harm me and I was very an invisible at day or night so hit and run were our technic against north vietnamese, but we lost the fight.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Melvin Painter

    obama knew what inciting the Middle East would do. He has each and every drop of blood on his hands. He is quiet as he knows it is his fault. Thanks obama, the Middle East really needed all the bloodshed.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  8. mommers

    I'm so sorry for the people of these pathetic Muslim countries but it is their ideology/religion/culture that brings them to this point. Until they can change that, no one can help them.

    August 19, 2012 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jeurope

    The syria can change their country's name to Jeurope. Also Change the flag to the Star flag and the language for English.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  10. mer

    wow... how uninformed and brainwashed are american citizens. just wow.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  11. k.k.

    How is this different from a genocide where the world always makes a promise never to repeat? 800,000 killed in Rwanda and 100,000 in Bosnia? Dysfunctional Planet and People?

    August 19, 2012 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. scranton

    Russia, China and Iran. Be prepared to reap the whirlwind.

    August 19, 2012 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
  13. USA

    Mittens You have My Vote.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
  14. Turban

    now I understand why Ben Wedeman is always extremely critical of Israel in his CNN reports; its because he is ia Syrian. Shame on you CNN for allowing an inherently anti-Israel reporter to report on Israel.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Gary B. Sanford

    Consequences of religion.

    August 19, 2012 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
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