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. Hope


    The world controlling crude...


    Amazing... the excuses we give them.

    August 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ~~~

    On Wednesday, a Syrian government fighter jet bombed a residential neighborhood, killing more than 40 civilians and wounding at least 100 – many women and children – in the town of Azaz.

    Human Rights Watch investigated the site two hours later. video on their website.

    August 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. HenriMarat17

    Our hearts are with you, FSA. Fight for what is yours; fight for the freedom you have been denied by the murderer Assad. Fight and keep jope, for your cause is just and truth will out in the end.

    August 17, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. melvin polatnick

    Sunni and Shiite gang leaders must be treated fairly. Each must be given a slice of turf which is protected by the local police. Saudi Wahhabi`s invaders are creating a new order, talented gang leaders will soon be appointed and given turf. Local police will become border guards, making sure Sunni and Shiite gangs stay within their own boundaries.

    August 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dr. Zloibutcher

    Assad is a hero

    August 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. js

    Looks like Jack Black

    August 17, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jack hayden


    Dear President Al-Assad:

    It has been over 6 months since I first wrote to you, but you still continue to kill your fellow Syrians.

    This time you are using tanks, airplanes and artillery to injure, maim and kill innocent people and obliterate buildings of Syria’s largest cities.


    The Syrian people just want basic things in life:
    • To live in Peace
    • To live without Fear
    • To be able to express their opinions and feelings

    There are now:
    • Over 20,000 dead
    • Over 150,000 refugees who have left Syria
    • Over 1,000,000 displaced citizens


    Look around, people who were once with you are leaving you because they know eventually you will lose and have to leave.

    Leave NOW before more Syrians suffer needlessly due to your actions.


    Citizen of the World

    August 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • ...

      Because Al-Assad is reading your comments right?

      August 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dexara

      There is two sides fighting.. How state can give arms to rebels If USA want to talk about peace,they should talk with Free Syrian Army. Imagine if parlament of Texas vote for leaving US. Imagine reaction from Washington. USA have enought problems at home,i dont know why are they act cop around the world...

      August 18, 2012 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Zeuss

      For those propgandists that think the US is arming the rebels, looking at the machine guns they're using - AK47's. Where do those come from? Russia

      August 18, 2012 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Hector

      Well Jack I would imagine the leader of any country who is experienced an armed insurrection will fight back and since it is clear that non Syrian Terrorists like Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda are fighting with the rebels it is who is the lesser evil to support.
      Is really lillte diferent than the American Civil War.
      If the terrorists and the "rebels" would stop shooting and go away then Syria would return to normal and the civilian suffering would end.
      Like Libya where NATO performed a coup for the same terrorists the civilians are still being victimized by the terrorists, whole towns and neighborhoods in other towns have been leveled, "revenge killings" are still rampant, arbitrary arrest, torture, and imprisonment is more common now than under the former government. The average Libyan is much worse off financially and physically than befre. The rebels are selling 1,000,000 barrels of oil a day at just over $90.00 a barrel but thoughmost of the rebels are in lavish villas living high on the hog the rank and file still have no running water, electricity, homes, even, hardly any food, healthcare, or drinking water. Kinda like what happened in Iraq and both are on the slippery slope to being another Somalia.

      August 18, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  8. Widow

    Pretty pathetic... Pretty sad we let the russians and Chinese kill Syrians at an unprecedented rate.. Why do we allow them to sell weapons to kill Syrians? Why isn't the world doing something? Same thing with koni... Obama said he sent special forces to help them in Africa with nothing to show for it months later.. Not even an update on koni.. Obama is a joke and lets others walk all over him.. Then we have Romney who isn't much better but definitely can't be any worse.. At least he wants government to spend less.. Maybe we could actually help a considerable amount of people with the money Obama just wastes on helping his own campaign buddies.. He shouldn't be campaigning he should be fixing our economy an helping these poor people. If he did that he would be elected without question but he does nothing.. Just like he did nothing to help fix the economy when he had full control of congress.. Spent trillions when economists said to if there were sustainable jobs and the jobs didn't last more than 2 years tops most only 6 months. He can't blame bush for not improving the economy when he had full power to change this nations course for two years.. Not saying it should have been fixed but he should have put us on a course. He Promised change and leadership and all he has done is ask congress to do something and not pointed out what the country should do which is stop wasting money and lower taxes.. Not raise taxes and increase spending which is all he talks about doing.

    August 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarno

      For the same reason the world is not doing anything in Darfur, in Somalia or in Haiti and all the other countries where millions are starving to death just because they have not oil and they're mostly black. If you cared so much about humanity's well being then those are the people you should want help for.

      August 18, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. WWIII

    Once this boils over into Israel, hello World War 3

    August 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wilmington Bickers

      Little kid asks "why are they doing this?"

      Answer is: "Sonny.. this would have been over in 2 months if not for China's veto."

      "But why dad?"

      Answer: "Because China has to protect dictatorships from international rulings, because they are also a dictatorship."

      "Buy why dad?"

      Answer "Because China is the biggest force for evil on this planet, at this time."

      August 17, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. janbaaz

    Bashar Al Asaad you cant win this match the people of syria. You have forgetten the Almighty Allah even in the holymonth of Ramadhan. just assess your self and your deeds inshallah you will stop. Its a universal all that majority should Rule the state See who are in majority. Help

    August 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dbp49

    I can't even imagine what it must be like to be unarmed, and caught in the middle of this mess.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bobcat (in a hat)©


    August 17, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ST

    Some people r dumb; most syrian r muslim (90%) and 75% Sunni (90% of all muslims in the worl r sunni). In Syria is diffrent Bashar Alassad (and his gang supported by Iran, Hizb Allah of Lebanon + Russia and China)has been in power since 2000, his father put him there after 40 years being in power. Syria just like URSS back in the days... After Gaddafi was gone Syrian got more hope (Syria revolution start before Lybia). American can't do much the Russian r using the veto. People have to continue fighting until they get Bashar just like Gaddafi the Russian and Irian will not let it go easily....

    August 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Robert Powell PhD

    Typical Putin supporting Syrian dictator Assad... Let's not forget the horrific plutonium poisoning ordered by Putin in London killing Alex Litvinenko... He's another Stalin also imprisoning anybody who speaks against him. Its only a matter of time before he loses power and the Russian People drag his dead body thru the streets... the Russian public won't let this dirty dictatorship continue much longer... The Chinese & Russian governments are worms without morals!

    August 18, 2012 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
  15. usa peace

    We the usa better stay out of this civil war nobody our solders need to get out of the middle east because that place is about to explode with war most people dont like us over there let them do as they wish in the middle east

    August 18, 2012 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Now there's an oxymoron if I've ever seen one... usa peace. lol

      August 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
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