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. TomGI

    The lucky ones are the dead ones.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  2. Zach

    That lady back there doesn't look too concerned

    August 17, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. George

    Why doesnt the violence in Mexico get as much coverage as Syria? Over 50,000 people have died right next door in Mexico since 2007 with very little coverage but Syria is always on the front page. VERY UNFAIR!

    August 17, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
    • us_1776

      Because USA For-Profit prison system needs its War on Drugs to have never-ending supply of US Citizens to incarcerate.

      Nothing will change until War on Drugs is ended and ALL for-profit prisons are closed.


      August 17, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • gary

      Instead of helping the innocent victims caught in the crossfire in Aleppo............our current President and Presidential wanna-be are bickering over how much one paid in income taxes!!!!!

      No wonder this world is so messed up........

      August 17, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      I do not think it will be long before the war in Mexico demands our attention.

      August 17, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • NODAT1

      Do you really need it spelled out for you????? NO ONE CARES thats why sorry but its the truth

      August 17, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. bibleverse1

    There are no answers for what is happening to the innocent Syrian people.

    August 17, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. t1590

    well dont just sit there. pick a damn side and fight

    August 17, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Matthew

      I know right... heaven forbid one should do something to improve his situation.

      August 17, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. us_1776

    Good luck to the Free Syrian Army and to all Rebels and people of Syria

    We have been working to get weapons sent to you.

    We wish you success in self-determination.


    August 17, 2012 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
  7. Melvin Painter

    obama wasn't satisfied with just trashing the US.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  8. CNNuthin

    Clowns to the Left of me, Jokers to the Right. Here I am, shot by a mortar shell with you.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • NODAT1

      Clowns to the Left of me, Jokers to the Right. Here we stuck in the middle of an election year with you

      August 17, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. frunklin

    Rebels to the left of me, terrorists to the right here I am. Stuck in the middle with you!

    August 17, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. Adam

    "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."

    This reminds me of why we have the second amendment. In addition too what happens when we pass the act the revokes our constitutional rights.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  11. vince

    I wonder what it is about conservative Islam that drives people to believe that Sharia is the answer to happiness considering it has been tried and implemented time and time again throughout history with mostly disasterous results - all it does is stifle decent and free expression and allows the leaders in power - the imams, the clerics, the 'Caliphate' or other leaders to often act with impunity becuase 'they're carrying out Gods will". As far as God's will goes – I wonder at what point the supports of Rebels or the supporters of Assad will suddenly realize that this has very little to do with relgion - that God does not take sides and is not part of the equation else He would have interveined already - its about those how have power and those who want power - the age old human quest. Relgion just tends to be used to complicate things. The God of peace/salaam is not the God of war. If anything, everyone should step back and looks at what's happening to Syrian society and it's unraveling. Once people realize that religion is NOT the answer, perhaps more rational and secular people will pop out of the woodwork to work out a compromise and acheive peace before the entire country collapses back into the medieval age.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  12. Aaron Chaney

    DAMASCUS, (SANA) – President al-Assad Sends Letter to Chinese Counterpart on the Situation in Syria

    President Bashar al-Assad sent a letter to the Chinese President Hu Jintao on the developments in Syria and the region, delivered by the Presidential Political and Media Advisor, Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

    Dr. Shaaban briefed minister Jiechi on the situation in Syria and the efforts exerted by the Syrian government to get out of the crisis through a political national dialogue, away from foreign interference, stressing Syria's interest in cooperation with friendly countries and international organizations and its commitment to Annan's six-point plan.

    Dr. Shaaban thanked China for its balanced and principled stance in support of the Syrian sovereignty, stressing the importance that all countries follow the lead of Russia and China in their accurate approach of the way out of the crisis.

    For his part, the Chinese minister expressed his country's unswerving rejection of imposing solutions on the Syrian people and foreign interference.


    DAMASCUS, (SANA) – President al-Assad Issues Two Decrees Nominating 3 Ministers, Appointing Mohammad Waheed Aqqad as Aleppo Governor

    President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday issued Decree No. 309 for 2012 nominating Dr. Adnan Abdo al-Sukhni as Minister of Industry, Najm hamad al-Ahmad as Minister of Justice and Saa'd Abdel-Salam al-Nayef as Minister of Health.

    President al-Assad also issued Decree No. 310 for 2012 on appointing Mohammad Waheed Aqqad as Governor of Aleppo.


    NEW YORK, (SANA) – Churkin Expresses Regret over UNSC Resolution to Not Extend UN Observer Mission in Syria

    Russia's Permanent Representative at the UN Security Council, Vitaly Churkin, expressed regret over the United Nations Security Council decision to not extend the UN observer mission in Syria.

    In a statement to journalists following a UNSC session in New York on Thursday, Churkin said that some UNSC members have sought to militarize the crisis in Syria instead of solving it.

    He added that his country has invited the UN permanent member states to a meeting on Friday at the UNSC to discuss the Syrian crisis, adding "I hope my colleagues would come with Geneva agreement on their minds, and we will work to implement it."

    Russia Expresses Frustration that UNSC Unable to Condemn Terrorist Acts Near UNSMIS Residence in Damascus

    Russia expressed frustration on Thursday as the UN Security Council was unable to condemn the terrorist act which took place yesterday near the residence of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (USMIS).

    The Russian Foreign Ministry pointed out in a statement that the UNSC western members foiled a Russian draft resolution condemning the terrorist act under the pretext of not having enough information.

    The Ministry added that the Russian draft resolution condemns the terrorist act and calls on all sides to cooperate with the UNSMIS.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  13. This is Weak

    Just carpet bomb the whole country, drop in a few saved Syrians and let them repopulate the country.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. BigHwasdemo

    The US is to blame for getting involved in something that was not our business. Now these poor folks have a scapegoat when all they did have was a goat.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • wes

      you do know this is about syria? we havnt gone into syria. and blame us? bame us how? we didnt start the arab spring they did.

      August 17, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Freedtoo

      They will always blame somebody. If it's not us it will be Israel.They have never assumed responsibility for their miserable circumstances. It is always somebody else's faulty.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Tony

    I truly wish if I can go and fight with this poor people ,you dont know how it feels to be crushed by your own government .I wish them the best of luck and better life very soon

    August 17, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
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