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. Walter

    I'm not referring to the FSA FreeAmerika, I'm referring to the UN. China and Russia have made it clear they will allow Syria's leaders to do whatever they want.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  2. julie

    Powerful, heartbreaking photos. What exactly is needed before someone intervenes?

    August 17, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • dhondi

      I guess what is needed is for you to buy a rifle and plane ticket and head on over and take care of business.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
    • M

      We'll get some drones over there just as soon as we finish ironing out these oil exclusivity forms.

      August 17, 2012 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. julie

    This is what desperate people do. Not sure what religion has to do with it.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • jonny

      Google "Muslim Brotherhood" to find out what religion has to do with it. Islam is behind every bit of it...become informed

      August 18, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. Louay - Syrian in the US.

    A story about the suffering of people who are trying hard to depose a 40 year single party father-son tyranny becomes an Islam bashing spot. Read more to understand that this war is not about religion, it's about freedoms and human rights. Sadly that hatred of Islam is blinding some from judging events the right way. In away, those who are misjudging Islam are adapting the very line of thinking the terrorist enemies (not Islam or Muslims) had ("they are the enemies" line of thinking.)

    August 17, 2012 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
    • bigubu

      A person with common sense, it is about time. The problem is not religion. All these haters always want to talk about the musles and islam as if they are terrorists. The terrorists are religious fanatics who take the words of the koran and twist them to suit their own political goals and justify the killing of anyone who thinks differently. Sound familiar to anyone out there. In the USA we have christian fundamentalists trying to take control of our political system. The republicans are trying to force their views of christianity upon the nation. What do you think will happen if they succeed. If we allow this to happen then don't complain when the Bible Police come knocking on your door because you are using your own mind and not blindly following the dogma that is being spouted by your christian radicals. By the way, the Bible is not really a "Book." It is a book in the sense that it is a bound compilation of myruads of authorless stories (Old Testement) that were found in many different places throughout the middle east. The christian scholars have decided what stories they like and don't like, and put the stories they like together into this compilation called the Bible. The Bible has also changed over the years when these scholars such as the Cardinals of the Catholic religion meet to decide to update and change the Bible. The Book of Revalations was not always apart of the Bible, but a number of years ago they decided to make it a part of the Bible. So, before you start following the Bible thumping politicians out there look to the middle east and you will see your future should you decide to bring christianity into the government of the USA that was, by the way, formed on the principle of religious freedom and seperation of church and state.

      August 17, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

    The Syrians were so worried about Israelis who only hit military targets.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
    • TruthMatters

      Yea the Israelis firing cluster bombs into residential areas is totally ok. Don't give me that crap of the lebanese were hiding behind civilians. No they're not. That's like saying that the SEALs who killed Bin Laden were hiding behind civilians because they were fighting in a residential area. When fighting a force that has aircraft and armor and you're lucky if you even have boots or a bullet proof vest you can't just stroll onto an open field. And since there are no thick jungles in the mid east you need the cover that only urban environments can provide. Regardless of all that, it is internationlly illegal to use cluster bombs in a residential area, which the Israelis have used multiple times in Lebanon. The Israelis have the means to attack specific targets but chose to use cluster bombs with the intent to destroy homes and kill civilians so that civilians can turn on the Lebanese fighters.

      August 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • max3333444555

      same tired old story from truthmatters.

      August 17, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

    I can't wait to see the Syrian Government bloggers who will blame the bombing on Israel.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. span

    I can't understand why USA is supporting terrorist ,extremist ,Jihadis who came to syria from Lybia.Saudia Arabia terrorist,Afghan and other Islamist countries to topple government of syria??? did USA changed it's policy from Fighting terrorist to Helping them??? It's look like Secretary clinton is running the show & she is working so hard to Islamist Jihadis running syria!!!!!???? Wake up America these Jihadis will turn on you if they gain power in syria ,Secretary clinton please read CNN's Ben Wedeman report ..

    August 17, 2012 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • ann

      Because of OIL.

      And CNN's biased reporting is because of oil too.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • USA

      And when they turn, we'll kill them too. Our biggest export is oppression and terror & No one will out-terror us.
      Haven't you figured that out yet?

      August 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • larry5

      Never in the history of the world has any nation wielded so much power with so much discretion and compassion as America. If you think anything less then you should come out into the sunlight and look around. It will take some time to get used to the glare but give it some time and you'll do just fine.

      August 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • dan

      It does make me wonder if they are changing tactics on the 'war on terror'

      August 17, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • nrimo

      Do you remember how USA and allies involved in Afghanistan during Soviet era? They used Soviet enemies by supporting Al Qaeda and Taliban indirectly through Arab Saudi and his friends. This kingdom is Wahhabi exactly same group who work on Syria. What will happen next ? The USA will destroy them. Looks a simple method to minimize the cost of war.

      August 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. PantyRaid

    The United States wants you to build oil pipelines.

    It's really that simple.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
    • jonny

      You are grossly missinformed...

      August 18, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. dhondi

    yep, let islam take its course.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
  10. Highly Motivated

    There will be nothing left for anyone to have. However they have the same fate in Manila Philippines but it's caused by flooding not war.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  11. Bill

    What a stupid question! The reason they are in turmoil and conflict is their religious and tribal rivalries functioning at their prime! The whole world is suffering from this endless strife among the Muslims ...what mystery is there to this!

    August 17, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • China rising

      The US invading Iraq was also a religious rivalry.

      August 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Val

    I can answer some of the questions.

    Q: Why are we shelled? A: Because Rebels came to your town.
    Q: Why did rebels come to town? A: Because CIA told them so.
    Q. What are we going to eat? A: The fruit of Democracy.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  13. Bill

    The main reason tghe western world doesn't get into this Syrian fray is simple...they're worn out on these endless futile Muslim religious skirmishes that always end the same – just a different group of primitives in charge.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. M

    During the early 20th century, as the KKK harrased and killed blacks under the guise of Christian ideology, I guess you could have said 'Killing blacks, that's what Christians do!'

    Generalize much?

    August 17, 2012 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  15. Esog

    The CIA put these mercenaries here and called them rebels. Working with the terrorists who we were fighting against just a little while ago. So does that mean we can arrest the people in Washington for aiding terrorists?

    August 17, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
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