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In Aleppo, the line between life and death is thin

By Ben Wedeman, CNN
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Death by a sniper's bullet strikes Hassan, a shopkeeper
  • He and his wife had come to Aleppo to help relatives escape
  • A block away, Hanadi says she has no plans to leave

Editor's note: CNN's Ben Wedeman and crew are some of the few international reporters in Syria, whose government has been restricting access on foreign journalists and refusing many of them entry. Check out more from CNN inside Syria.

Aleppo, Syria (CNN) -- He wasn't a fighter or a revolutionary, he didn't live by the gun. But 45-year-old Hassan, a shopkeeper, died from an unseen sniper's bullet.

Neighbors and fighters had to hoist his body over walls between apartment buildings in the back streets of Aleppo's Mashhad neighborhood to avoid the snipers.

His wife was by his side when the bullet ripped through his head. The couple had come here to help relatives pinned down by the violence to escape to safer ground.

The line between life and death is perilously thin in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and the focus of fighting between government and rebel forces that have been seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

More: Sniper fire greets CNN crew

Just one block away, Hanadi insisted she and her family of six had no plans to leave.

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
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Asked where the front line is, she brushed off the question, saying she's become accustomed to the shelling.

Her son, 1½-year-old Abdul Ghani, seemed confused; he squeezed a reporter's hand tightly.

A two-minute walk down the street, rubble showed that an apartment block had been hit in an airstrike.

What little was left of the building was in an area where residents were still living. Among the ruins lay a French book and "The Life of William Shakespeare."

Residents said two bodies remained buried inside.

More: Just who are the rebels?

Ra'id, a self-described unarmed activist, told CNN that regime forces don't care if they kill 100, 200, 1,000 or 2,000 civilians or if they destroy three or four buildings.

A rocket slammed into another building in the nearby Sikkari District, wounding two people and raining rubble into the street.

Throughout, government helicopters hovered overhead and jets dropped bombs on rebel-controlled neighborhoods.

Syria rebels say they shot down jet

The trappings of daily life in this city under siege have disappeared.

Even the simple act of crossing the street requires a strong heart and fast feet; the sniper's bullet is just a crack away.

Since the crisis erupted in March 2011, it has claimed roughly 17,000 lives, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month. Opposition activists have put the toll at more than 20,000.

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