It took six months of planning–working closely with contacts developed over the course of several years–before CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward felt comfortable entering rebel-controlled Syria.
“It’s an extremely dangerous place. Very few, almost no Western journalists have been there in over a year,” Ward told TVNewser Monday. “Journalists have been able to get visas to visit regime controlled parts of the country, but it has been too long since Western journalists have entered rebel-held Syria. We wanted to see for ourselves what life is like under the bombs.”
Ward and her team, including CNN producer Salma Abdelaziz and Syria-based filmmaker Bilal Abdul Kareem, traveled undercover, with Ward and Abdelaziz wearing the niqab–a black veil that covers the entire face, except for a small slit at the eyes–only removing the veil to do standups. “We were as low profile as it is humanly possible to be.”
Ward’s one remaining concern was the risk of a Russian airstrike, for which there is little preparation other than being lucky. “There’s a sickening moment between hearing the planes and waiting for them to drop their payload. A pit forms in your stomach. You know you could die.”
Ward heard the fighter jets just hours after arriving in a town called Ariha. “Before we knew it there had been a series of strikes. One of them hit a fruit market. Ordinary people out buying fruit. One minute they were arguing about the price of oranges. The next minute they were dead.”
Ward and her crew rushed with the wounded to a hospital, and witnessed the deaths of a woman and two children. “And this was on our first day,” she said. But for the Syrians, it is everyday life after five years of war. “There are massacres happening every day in Syria, and it’s really rare a journalist gets to mark them with the reverence and journalistic duty they merit.”
“To be standing on the ground, and capturing it in HD… the reality of living under this kind of constant bombardment that is entirely unpredictable was extremely powerful and, of course, harrowing,” Ward said. “But I knew at that point we were doing the right thing by being there.”