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. CRH

    After 3 days can you remove that picture of Ben Wedeman now? He is not the story.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. nolongerarepublican

    But it's ok for 6 cops to shoot a mentally ill black man 46 times holding a knife 20 feet from them.
    I saw the video, it was murder.
    Man, am I glad we don't live in Syria.
    No wait, we do.
    Never mind.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  3. Profit

    The reason they are doing this is because once muslims have purged an area of the "disbelievers" through violence, they have no one to persecute except those that "aren't muslim enough". So, the killing continues.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Roelof

    Where would CNN write about when there wouldn't be Islam?

    August 17, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  5. max3333444555

    we couldnt support the regime after they allowed people fighting against us in iraq to use their border as a shield. i do question whether the known devil is better than the unknown devil...

    August 17, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  6. Vaca Azul

    The CNN news organization is war propaganda, it lied about Iraq, Libya, Iran, and Sirian government. Anyone with little intelectual knowledge in foreign policy should disregard CNN as a trusted news organization. Those who tell the truths are
    Considered criminal as an examples Brad Manning and Julian Assange.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • DR. Zuess

      The Vaca Azul news organization is tryant propaganda. It lied about Iraq, Libya Iran, and the Syrian govt. Anyone with little intellectual (notice I spell it correctly) knowledge in foreign policy should disregard Vaca Azul as a trusted news organization.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. DR. Zuess

    Collateral damage? Maybe just a little? And to think all of these commies were complaining when KFOR was bombing Serb troops.....

    August 17, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bubba ButchRoy

    This is happening because the people of Aleppo supported a revolt against the Federal Government of Syria. The destruction of Aleppo is EXACTLY like the Destruction of Atlanta by the War Criminals Lincoln, Grant and Sherman.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • URAdolt

      Because slavery was in no way morally wrong and actions taken to free them were uncalled for, right?

      August 17, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Face

      Sherman was a hero to the Republic. You sound like a confederate. This is not the same, as those in Allepo are not fighting for the right to own slaves, nor are they fighting to sell their cotton to Europe.

      August 17, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Face

      Sherman's failure was to not drive the pie eating secesh into the ocean as if by the hand of God. Now we have to deal with the dregs even up to this day.

      August 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • rosaclipper

      That's the most idiotic statement I've ever heard.

      August 17, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • worthlessnews


      CNN WORST Ratings in history.

      August 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • worthlessnews


      CNN WORST Ratings in history for every reason...

      August 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. lolol

    bow down to the NWO Syria, you are part of the master plan.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  10. JoeRepublicanUSArocks!

    They can kill each other to the last man so long as it does not affect my bets on the World Series and my ability to drink cheap beer while making fun of faygs and librawls.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. blissfuljay

    There is no right side. only more death. the middle east seems to feed on blood. i just pray the people not involved can get to some place safe and bunker up.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. ann

    Why is CNN not reporting on Al-Quds Day taking place in Iran today? Millions marching to the cries that Jews and America are insults to humanity? Thanks CNN. Nice job censoring the news. Iran sponsoring terror, including in Syria.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • DR. Zuess

      Because no one cares, except you and your ilk.

      August 17, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jim

    Deedee, Are you really comparing Syria with the shootings in the US.

    August 17, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. najee Ayache

    some boom boom

    August 17, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  15. desert voice/troubledgoodangel

    Get the blue casks to Syria right now! Get the necessarey no-fly zone and safe-zone protection. Don't repeat Srebrenica! Even, a Putin's newspaper, has recently said that the blue casks are essential. What is the UN waiting for? Ban Ki Moon seems to be enjoying this spectacle!

    August 17, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
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