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. S in Arizona

    Fact, if Assad gives up his fight in Syria, he will have no options for his future life...if the rebels and/or freedom fighters give up in Syria, the government will give them no options for their future. This is a fight to the end for all or until one or the other is totally decimated...when you look at history in that region, you note that there are overwhelming numbers of civilizations that have been reduced to sand. I understand that these Mideastern countries come and go and that is why they have reduced their nations and lands to rubble and because of constant turmoil, no citizenry there is able to thrive and to become technologically proficient. Because this history constantly repeats itself, everyone loses, the leaders and the citizenry alike. Because the United States has a remarkable history of 200 years of democracy, we enjoy our freedoms and thus far huge technological gains and remain powerful. However, history has shown that pursuing the interests that we now pursue, will inevitably destroy our nation and in how many years will it take to turn our land into sand.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Jalal

      Love your post.. Still sad to see what is taking place..!!

      August 19, 2012 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • felix1877

      But that pattern of the history of the human race is inevitable. It is not up to pursuing 'the interests'. We can not change it by pursuing something different.

      August 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Andrew

    Innocent civilians will suffer and die. Cities will be reduced to rubble, but in the end another dictator will be overthrown and this time Russia & China will probably still blame 'The West' or 'outside meddling' for the whole outrage of death & destruction, instead of admitting that corrupt, selfish leaders all have their day of justice coming to them. Who knows who or how justice will be served, but it will be served to them on a cold-plate.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Jalal

      As much as I love your conclusion and to see it happen, in many instant it shows that a tactic like this will actually work and the regime will remain.

      August 19, 2012 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. The Lord of Excess

    That image is beyond disturbing, so disturbing in fact that I think CNN really should not display it on the main page. It is horrifying what is happening in Syria right now but ... no one cares apparently. China and Russia are A-OK with letting Iran get nukes, allowing Syria to execute its populace wantonly in the streets ... the US has hamstrung itself permanently in terms of being able to continuously intervene in every country in the world. Thanks to Israel utterly dominating the US there is really noting more we can do in the middle east ... Israel and Islam are the two driving forces that are causing all this death and destruction ... go figure ... religion ... still causing more death than pretty much anything other than cancer and heart disease.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:19 am | Report abuse |
  4. God

    This is an eternal war

    August 19, 2012 at 3:47 am | Report abuse |
  5. Anthony

    Considering what the regime did in Homa 30 years ago i would say this guy suffers from a lack of imagination.

    It is not our war let's stay out.

    August 19, 2012 at 3:50 am | Report abuse |
  6. Davd

    I wonder if CNN has a policy of not showing any dead whites, I never see CNN post photos of dead or grieving whites

    August 19, 2012 at 4:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Jt_flyer

      No dead kangaroos Either.

      August 19, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. Shade

    This tragedy in Syria will will the one in Egypt, and Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The similairity is the mindset of the governments there. They live in the 14th century, and the rest of the world lives in the 21st.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
  8. cas

    Like it or not, a united European Union (EU) and a U.S Obama administration represents the pinnacle of political achievement in this planet.

    A humanity guided by reason and desire to do better, to achieve higher and not to be trapped by the archaic sentiments of individualism. That simple, make your choice. Long live the Western World.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:32 am | Report abuse |
  9. Siggie

    I did!

    August 19, 2012 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jt_flyer

    Thankfully we learned to stay out of Muslim troubles. Tomorrow the so-called brotherhood will be using their suiside vests to kill us. NEVER AGAIN.

    August 19, 2012 at 7:25 am | Report abuse |
  11. miketaylor6977

    No one inagined it would turn into this."

    What a pretentious statement. I knew it was going to.

    August 19, 2012 at 7:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. aspblopm

    The rebels knew this would happen. Was this destruction worth it? Will the persecution of minorities that will occur be what we are happy with along with this killing and devastation?

    August 19, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. Leonardo

    You go to LOVE the US war mongering propaganda that wants it's feeble minded viewrs to believe that the only ones commiting atrocities are soldiers loyal to the regime. Meanwhile there is footage of these bearded so called "rebels" executing men women and children. They lined them in fron of a wall had them get on their knees ans shot them in the back of the head. CNN has been outed as a war propaganda machine, keep supplying the bearded Jihadists USA it is noble work that you are doing, creating bloodshed where there wasn't any. Lastly I would just like to point out that if you watch unbiased footage on youtube you will see that the "regime" soldiers are clean shaven while the so called American funded rebels all have full bears and constantly yell Allahu Akbar while firing their newely acquired weapons.

    August 19, 2012 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. VMCordova

    Its sad to see people using fire arms to kill an fight for a change and just make lives worst don't solve the problems he are facing.
    for what i have learn no men ,or government,or the UN will resolve the problems that are facing people all over the world.only god can help us,its time to really trust God the bible talk about this problems and tell us that the solution is God Kingdom as the lord prayer stated in mattew 6:9,10 we need God super powers to se a change soon

    August 19, 2012 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
  15. Eppelein

    Now that's very odd my post/answer to Regalo got deleted? i wonder why?

    I did not use foul language. I did not threaten any one. Nor did i in any way point the finger at Anyone or say anything offensive. so really dont know what give. was it because i was to strait forward and told it like it is?

    August 19, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
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