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. Bunkie Moon

    Middle Eastern Muslims can't have piece .
    It's not in thier nature nor culture , nor history .
    Thier culture is stuck in static identity , and to do anything different would threaten thier whole world view and culture , and run the risk of depersonalzation . We need to leave them alone . Give them the freedom to find thier own way , and hopefully they will make a collective change . Social darwinism is at play here .

    August 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bunkie Moon

    They are fine , just leave them alone .

    August 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sigmond seamonster

    Bob Wedeman is an ACTOR with an AGENT that is trying to create a name for himself by propagating stories designed to sway public opinion on Syria's problems and as a result send young Americans to another land to fight. Bob Wedeman has had 3 Acting jobs in the past 6 years. He had 1 "episode" on CNN Saturday Morning, 2 "episodes" on the Charlie Rose Show, and 1 "episode" on Anderson Cooper. The Syrian Conflict is not an interest of Americans, no matter how much Sales Pitching the Government and Friends of Israel try to make it so.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Calvin

    My wife is a Syrian Christian. All her family live in Aleppo and are against FSA and Asad. I believe Syrian are secular and peace loving people. FSA is paid by Quatar, Saudi and Gulf states that are probably the most repressive regimes in the world. Asad is paid by Iran.

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

    CNN WORST Ratings in history.

    A liberal cesspool can't even get high ratings with its pea brain audience.... keep it up CNN!!!

    August 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jerry Pelletier

    I like the way Obama is handling this....Let Arabs kill Arabs....perfect!

    August 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Hector

    The government of Syria is doing pretty much the same thing the Federal Government of America did when a segment of it's population rebelled. The big difference besides weaponry is that for the most part the American rebels were Americans and in Syria many of the rebels are not syrian but admitted terrorists from Al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and a few others who have come to Syria from Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and a few other places.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. kls817

    the only good news regarding all of this (if there is any) is that the US is not involved. If we had been involved, the carnage would only be worse, and it would be 'all our fault' in world opinion; plus we would have wasted a lot of money.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. demo Joseph

    This is what I know will happen to our country. Syria is what America will look like in 20 years. All we do is hate, kill, and say it is OK for men to shoot each because they have the right to bear arms. This is crazy. Where are you women? Many of you are living without a man or with a bad one and still you will not vote to get them out or will not come to vote unless he allows you. Grow up Americans we are headed in the directions of Syria.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • max3333444555

      right to bear arms doesnt give someone the right to kill. i dont see anyone sane advocating violence

      August 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • kamarasune

      What a complete failure. The first thing you do is look around for a woman to blame...

      August 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • ~~~

      you act like Americans actually have a clue what is going on in the world. most don't. it would take years to get them up to speed. note that the articles rarely if ever make sense to americans. there's enough information to tell them that its happening, but they have no clue how it relates to them. all of that is hidden. we have largely jewish owned media here. so...

      August 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. demo Joseph

    P.S. Religion has everything to do with what is going on in Syria and America. Men have used religion to control women, children, policitians, legal issues – Get real or shut up.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • kamarasune

      FIrst; your looking for women to blame, and to hurry up and come save the nation, and now your bawling about religion...Go take your meds and try to focus your topics in the future.

      August 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Lets get real...this whole thing there is a rel;igious power struggle between the Shia, Suni and the Alawite regime now in power. These factions and other tribal influences have been doing this stuff all over that region. This endless faction conflict is at the very heart of their religion...each feels the other is in error and needs to be put to death. Rerligion there governs every facet of their daily life as well.

      August 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. budd02

    Most of the readers have it correct. It's only because of the support the rebels are getting from Western countries especially the U.S. that they have been able to keep fighting the regime for so long. Without their financial and other support the revelotion would have been put down fairly quickly and there would have been a lot less lives lost. Who is inciting the violence of the arab spring, I can only think of the western countries, they are to blame for the loss of lives in all these useless wars, Democarcy will never work in any of these countries, we have seen it in Iraq Afganastan, Libya is still ruled by armed gangs and Egypt is still in contreversal as to who really rules the country.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lilbit

      The rebels were being supported by other Arab countries long before the West joined in. Furthermore Assad would not have been able to keep up the fight without the support he has received from Iran. America did not become the country that it is overnight nor will Libya or Egypt.

      I do not believe that this is started out as a religious war but more a fight to be free from the fear and oppression of their ruthless leader Al-Assad and it is only now slowly slipping into a religious war. The people did not elect Assad to power, nor did they elect his father before him. Assad inherited his position from his father, who took it by force it in a coup and it is by force that he will soon lose it. Forty years of the Assad's oppression has built up a lot of hate and anger. Unfortunately Assad chose to give positions of power in his regime to other Alawites like himself, and to favor them above other religious sects. When he began his bombings he was careful to not bomb the Alawite neighborhoods while caring nothing for the Sunni or Shiite neighborhoods and those that lived there. Throw in Assad's paid Wahhabi thugs and you have a war that is no longer just about gaining freedom but also about religion. Assad is losing and the more he sees his power slipping, the more ruthless he has become, indiscriminately bombing the cities and killing thousands of his own people. He seems to think nothing about how is he going to be able to repair the damage he and his military have wrought even if he were to stay in power. He has gone too far. He has now shown the people that they are nothing to him. His lust for power will be his undoing and I doubt it will come soon enough for all the Syrian people.

      August 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BEEZY

    I wonder how obama will blame this on President Bush.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DR. Zuess

    Obviously, Assad has proven even to those people who are supporting him in Aleppo, that he could care less about them. He is losing support exponentially.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bongo™

    We should just leave other countries alone. Live and let live.

    August 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hope

      The voice of reason...

      Thanks, Bongo™

      August 17, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • ~~~

      they are too busy raping an pillaging for resources so they can sell more ipods, cell phones, cars, etc. and the weapons dealers make money off of this stuff and the banksters just go hog wild.

      August 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Hope

    Men's failures are not God's.

    All the rulers in the world couldn't save themselves against Him. Violence and greed rule supreme... not God, unfortunately.

    One Sweet Day,

    August 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
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