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. russ

    They can get blown up at any second. They cant get food or water for the most part. Yet, for some reason the author found it necessary to say they can't find jobs? Why at this point in theor lives would that even matter?

    August 17, 2012 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dwayne

    So, I'm curious why no one has criticized the rebels for their handiwork in all of this. They are just as responsible for cauusing problems. If the doggone rebels are so concerned about the innocent dying, then go out int he desert and hav a fight there. But instead, the rebels run around hiding behind women's skirts, babies, buildings, and then cry foul when the military pull the trigger?

    August 17, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  3. south4evr

    Just another group of happy, peace loving, tolerant Muslims!!! Allah Akbar!!

    August 17, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  4. wes

    all I can say is im sorry for you people that your being killed when all you want is freedom. but on the flip side of things maybe if you didnt take to the streets on 9/11 and cheer what bin laden had done, maybe this would be a different story. maybe if you liked the US then maybe we would support you. as it sits im sorry for you, but I dont support you, I wont help you, and I sure in the world Will Not fight for you people. reason? because of your Bad history with the US.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bezboz

    They are not intervening because they realized that this is a Salafi/Wahabi/Al Qaeda driven movement and nobody wants to send such scum any more weapons which will be used against us in the future.

    August 17, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  6. Skadams

    Great diplomacy job that Hillary and Obama have done over there. We set up Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East, spend a billion of taxpayer money to Libya's uprising, which was none of our business either, but we leave thousands to die in the most brutal uprising yet and Obama's too busy campaigning for his job to give it a second thought.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • OregonTom

      Actually Libya was US business.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • East of Eden

      And if he did ask to send help over you'd be whining about that too. Already did when you mentioned Libya. He can't win w/ people like you so have a coke and a smile while you stfu.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      Yeah yeah.. and for every one of you there was another guy complaining that we needed to send troops there.. or why we were taking so long to help.

      Another armchair QB with 20/20 vision!!

      Way to go captain hindsight.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Derp never changes.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  8. Everett Wallace

    enough of syria it bores me, I am getting ready to go on vacation and it will not be here

    August 17, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Tonya

      It's people like you that give America a bad name. Jerk.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  9. Portland tony

    The entire region sees this as a Sunni vs Shia conflict. There are no good guys or bad. Locally, the Shia regime is being backed by Iran and Hezbollah and the so-called freedom fighters are backed by cash and Arms provided by Sunni led Saudis. The US can't get trapped in a secular war where the final outcome will leave Syria looking like Iraq. Our sole role in Syria should be
    humanitarian and ensuring that their WMD's (poisonous gas) doesn't turn up being used against Israel!

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

    The blame lies on both sides. Why did the rebels deploy is a major city and fight it out with the government. Will any government worth its salt give up a major city. The rebels knoew the soldiers will try and take over the city and is fighting it out at the cost of destroying the city. Isnt it done or purpose to some how get the other countries to get involved. Both the rebels and government are equally to blame for this atrocity.

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

    Stupid american comments! The people they are shooting are THEIR OWN PEOPLE! They are all MUSLIMS! We over here shoot our own people ...COLORADO AND ANY OTHER NUMEROUS SHOOTINGS WE HAVE SEEN IN THE PAST 2 WEEKS. You dumb males. Your comments are ignorant. And more than likely the first to pick up a gun to solve your problems

    August 17, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • max3333444555

      there are meds for your condition

      August 17, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      I wish CNN had a 'Like" button for your comment!

      August 17, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Liz

    Some of the first time we've ever heard from someone other than the government that the rebels may not have actual Syrian interests. It doesnt' make what the government is doing right of course. If Assad truely cared for his people he' be evacuating citizens or atleast women & children while trying to crush the rebels but he's taking the bomb them all approach.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  13. sagewy

    These comments that this is war and there is no good or bad disgust me. This is evilness all in the name of a God who most likely does not exist or does not care what happens to its creations. It's times humans act human and quit using religious excuses to commit hell on earth. This article made me cry and sick to my stomach. I would pray for them but apparently that doesnt work.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • rstlne

      The problem is that these humans are acting "human." Human beings have apparently always been warlike. It is sad, but true. My father served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, and after that he always said that human beings care very little for human life, other than their own. Unfortunately he is still being proved correct.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  14. matt

    It's disgusting that rebel's resort to using woman and infants as human shields.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  15. stevan

    Send the Southern Poverty Law Center and other Liberal groups overthere to help out the people!

    August 17, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
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