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. frunklin

    Maybe they should ask Allah for help since everything they do and say is in his name.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. Bubba ButchRoy

    When the food runs out, they will stop fighting.

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

    Really great photos. I especially appreciate the photos of government forces. We've mostly seen pictures of the rebels so far, presumably because of the Syrian government's ban on foreign journalists. But seeing the people on both sides really humanizes it. It would be interesting to hear more about the people who support Assad. I understand they are mostly the Alewites and Christians, but do they genuinely like Bashar al Assad or are they just afraid of retribution if the Sunnis gain control of the government?

    August 17, 2012 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    They need to be called terrorists not rebels

    August 17, 2012 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  5. JOSH P.

    I guess the y are starting to wake up,and start to realized that these so called rebels are outsider mercenaries being paid by Saudi Arabia,Qatar,NATO, and Mossad,for whatever sinister reasons,but the bottom line is Assad ain,t going anywhere,so mercenaries and your backers get ready to fight.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Prove it.

      August 17, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  6. frunklin

    They wanted a civil war. They got it, now they're complaining about it. What did they think was going to happen. Assad laying down his arms and just peacefully walk out of his palace?

    August 17, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. Percy

    Perhaps it is time to raise the white flag – sounds logical at this point.With Rueeia & China backing the Syrian government the rebels can NEVER prevail !

    August 17, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bongo™

    Although the U.S. supports the rebels, there have been a fair amount of atrocities/war crimes reported against them. I wish we would just stay out of it.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. jr

    picture 112is flooded with orbs

    August 17, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jeb

    The people are Syria are caught in a proxy war between the west and Assad. It is unfortunate that the US is once again leading a war to topple its political enemies without regard to the people of that nation. The people of Syria shouldn't be surprised that a bunch of strangers posing as 'rebel's have come to town to fight the gov't authorities. They'll see a lot more before this is over. Shame on us again. Stop the war mongering President Obama!

    August 17, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. Dave Anders

    Think for a minute- how would like the people in the pictures to be trying to kill your postman, your city clerk, your garbage man, your street sweeper, your welfare worker, your fireman, your policeman, your mayor, your every government worker- that is what the so-called opposition is trying to do to gain control because they have to destroy any possibility of anybody voting against them-that is how bad they were beaten in the last election. These "rebels" are doing the same as those in Libya and Egypt did when they lost their elections(fair elections in all three countries as declared by the United Nations). These three groups of rebels are what Back Obama calls freedom fighters. I call the "opposition" murderers.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. James1226

    Terrible pictures. But not worse than the genocide happening in Burma against the Horingya ethinic group.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  13. fiftyfive55

    I am in my 60s,have been watching these same news clips and reports MY ENTIRE LIFE. We are now now indifferent to the mideast and their violence as it has not changed or been reduced one iota in at least 50 or 60 years.Re-establishing Israel in a war zone was not thought out or too brilliant of a maneuver.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  14. Highly Motivated

    Get this off the news. We don't care about this war. They can all die as far as we are concerned. These wars have been happening for decades.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. San

    Who care. Everyone who dies is one less Muslim. Always a goodf thing. More dead terrorists. I hope the fighting continues forever.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
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