August 17th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

CNN inside Syria: Caught in middle, people of Aleppo frantic for peace

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.

A building had been hit by an artillery round 15 minutes earlier. We're driving to see the damage and notice there isn't a rebel in sight.

But there are a lot of people.

They aren't political. They aren't fighters. But they are terrified.

We meet a man whose fifth-floor apartment had been hit. His living room had completely collapsed.

"I've done nothing to Bashar (al-Assad)," he says, his voice growing agitated. "I've never done anything against him. Why are they doing this to me?"

The man, like many others nearby, are caught in the firefight between government forces and rebels. You get the feeling that these people just want peace.

On the street below, a man approaches us and asks if we're with the regime or the revolution. We tell him neither.

"We're with neither either!" he exclaims. "We're caught in the middle and paying the price as these two sides fight it out."

The damaged homes are just the beginning. One day earlier we had seen a 12-year-old boy with his leg blown off.

Every day when reporting out of Syria, we talk about how many people have been killed each day. But they have names. They have ages. They are somebody's brother, someone's mother, someone's family.

For the living, their houses are shelled, they can't find food, they don’t have a job. All they can do is throw up their hands in exasperation. They don’t like the regime, but it's impossible for them to live under these circumstances. They are the innocent people, stuck in the middle, who will have to live with the consequences. And often they'll be the ones paying the highest price - with their lives.

Ben Wedeman in Aleppo

As these residents struggle to survive, living in the middle of a war zone, a tension is beginning to grow between local residents and fighters who have come in to use towns as bases to fight against government forces. Many of the major deciders of what will happen to Syria in the coming weeks, months and days are not from Aleppo, but they are based here now. They've descended upon the town, home to 2 million, with residents having little say in the matter.

More: Struggling for survival

Outside a rebel command post, we hear a loud argument break out between between jihadi rebels and local pious Muslims wearing skullcaps. It's not clear what they were fighting about, but it is clear the tension is continuing to mount between the fighters and the locals.

In one neighborhood we see a man, his wife and their son carrying bags. We ask them why they were leaving. The father says they needed a change of atmosphere. That, certainly, is an understatement. His wife, wearing a black veil, says she just wants the rebels and the Free Syrian Army to leave. They just want to be left alone. They merely want to live in their home in peace. But they have no choice and are forced to flee.

With many of the rebels being jihadis, locals express their concerns. Since I've been in Aleppo, I've never heard the word democracy used once. They may use the word freedom, but the debate over what that means couldn't be more different depending on who you talk to. Many of the rebels say they want to see Islamic law be the rule of the land. And many locals in Aleppo, though they are traditionally Sunni and religious, are concerned about the power that jihadis with guns who want Islamic law are gaining.

But those concerns are just the start.

Later, as we dine in the home of a man outside of Aleppo, it becomes clear that frustrations are mounting about how success can be achieved in Syria and what that even means.

"The problem with this revolution is that we don’t have a leader," the man tells me. "It would be good if we had five leaders, but we have 500 leaders. And that’s what worries me."

With rebels being divided into local units, jihadi units and additionally the Free Syrian Army, the sense in many parts of town is one of pure chaos and concern. Who is in charge? What is the plan? Is there one?

We saw one man trying to buy an AK-47. But he had no plans to fight against the government. For him, the real danger was still to come. He told us he wanted the gun to protect himself from looters and thieves and out of fear of what may happen if the regime falls.

Nobody here knows what will come of Syria if al-Assad's regime does fall. And for some, that's the scariest part.

More from Ben Wedeman inside Syria:

'Nobody imagined this': How a city went from beauty to war zone

– 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 (220 Responses)
  1. kathy

    man's inhumanity to man. and the children must suffer. what have we come to?

    August 17, 2012 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      We? This is the ideology of ISLAM and ISLAM only buddy. People want to make believe its a religion. Well its NOT!

      August 17, 2012 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
  2. julie

    Shame on the whole world. Syrian ppl: you have no one but God to turn to.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:48 am | Report abuse |
    • nolongerarepublican

      So pack your things and go over to Syria and do something instead of trashing Americans who want to stay out of other people's civil wars.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:25 am | Report abuse |
    • greg

      which god are you talking about julie?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:36 am | Report abuse |
  3. Joseph Zrnchik

    The Syrian people realized long ago that the imported Saudi al Qaeda and jihadist terrorists did not care one iota about Syria or its people. These fighters were perfectly willing to lay ruin to all of Syria to have their way. They offered nothing but ethnic cleansing and mass executions. Now the US and Saudi Arabia are frantic because their plans are going south. It will not be long now before Hillary is hysterical in front of the UN.

    Assad protected all sects, denominations and ethnic groups. He did not engage in ethnic cleansing and still stands ready to implement reforms the US tried to sabotage.

    Long Live Syria! Send the al Qaeda invaders to Hell!

    August 17, 2012 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
  4. Frank

    Your being shelled because this is the NATURE OF ISLAM! And has been for 14.5 Centuries and we are growing this cancer in the WEST so it will happen to us too. Just a matter of time unless we call ISLAM what it is. A radical, violent ideology he11bent on world domination to make Sharia the law of the world.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
    • dasea

      I think you are the problem. You sound like a Nazi. Just change the word Islam with the word Hebrew. We really have had our country hijacked by hate filled Nazis over here.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
    • greg

      grank,you are blinded by prejudice and hatred,it allows your eyes via your mind to see only what you perceive as truth,this is your truth,thankfully,we all have differing beliefs and truths...

      August 17, 2012 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  5. dasea

    Why is the USA destroying so many people's lives in the middle east? I don't think any answer short of some admission of guilt by our department of defense would even come close to a truthful answer.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. Hello

    Why? They should direct the question to US and Israel (in the shadows, of course) who involved in the assault against Syrian govt.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. chedar888

    It's a shame. Assad's Syria has to cone to this event due attachment, hatred and delusion.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
  8. nolongerarepublican

    So are they also asking the rebels "why are you doing this"?
    The UN has confirmed the rebels are torturing and killing also and may be as bad as Assad's people.
    This whole Syria thing is Iran's doing.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. dasea

    Stop linking the word Israel with the word USA. Israel is not any different than it was 20 years ago. Yet in 20 years the USA has turned into a military camp. The USA truly is in the wrong. We are not even attached to any of our Allies, we are just using every sing;e friend we have to target droves of humans in the middle east. The USA has murdered millions since 911. Our government has fallen under very dark clouds.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
    • greg

      what? seriously,what?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. Think Like Sheep

    Like the man watching over the sheep said.... Get The Flock Out of Here !

    Pack up and leave because your childrens and spouses are worth more than you house and land...

    It's either that or send in your best Karate folks to take out the opposition in a covert approach..... 🙂

    August 17, 2012 at 7:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. greg

    Aleppo,coming to a city near you soon,economic collapse is unavoidable,we are headed for collapse and depression,its a mathematical fact,cnn knows this,they all do,no one is talking about it,why?

    August 17, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  12. BJanny

    For people's sake, get the rebels and regime on a table, without any preconditions for negotiation.
    This madness must come to end

    August 17, 2012 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
  13. psychicstalker

    yet another story about ASSad trying to kill yet another 12 year little boy. What is it with ASSad and 12 year old little boys? I I am beginning to believe there is some comparison between ASSad and King Herod. ASSad's demise is not going to be enough to cover all the blood he has shed.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
    • NorCalMojo

      Child soldiers seems the most likely explanation.

      August 17, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  14. BEEZY

    i honestly do not care about these people. it may sound heartless but everytime we get involved they thank us then 10 years from now they are going to hate us and try and attack us. so screw them, let them handle their own business and i will handle mine. but no matter what the US does we are going to be the bad guys so i just dont care.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
    • FreeAmerika

      the govt already is involved. They do not want Amerikas help but guess what we are one of the biggest reasons this "army" is there the things your govt does without your knowledge or consent is unreal

      August 17, 2012 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. Walter

    Why are they doing this? Because China and Russia said they could.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
    • FreeAmerika

      Really ? Ya better check out who is funding the FSA, it is not China or Russia but the good old US of A..backing and funding this army. Dumping millions of dollars and CIA intel to support the same people we claim are terrorist.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
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