CNN's Ivan Watson has been traveling through northern Syria near Aleppo,where bloody battles have raged for more than a week for control of the country's largest city. Watson and the 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.
What is the state of the rebel offensive and what are the rebels saying about their chances? Here's what Watson recently saw and heard from on the ground near Aleppo (edited for length and clarity):
With our eyewitness vantage point, we saw was a rebel offensive that started at sunset Friday night. The rebels attacked the last Syrian army checkpoint before the gates of Aleppo to the north of the city.
It was a firefight that lasted hours. And in the end the rebels overran this entrenched Syrian army position that had more than a dozen tanks. It had machine guns firing into the night sky in all directions hitting surrounding villages. (Watch more in the video above)
In the end, they overran it. And then we saw what they captured: a number of tanks, armored personnel carriers, ammunition, tank rounds. And this was not only a moral victory for the rebels but a strategic one because they now control the main exit point to the north between Aleppo, the biggest city in Syria, and the Turkish border. It's a crucial transit route. ...
Every rebel you talk to has friend, has comrades-in-arms who are inside Aleppo.And every rebel I've spoken to in the last 24 hours knows of some members of their rebel brigade who have been killed in the last 24 to 36 hours. One man told me, for instance, that he sent in three fighters with a carload of guns to distribute to the fighters inside Aleppo. And after their first stop, they were hit by a tank in their car and then - with machine gun fire - all three men were killed. So, the situation is very dire there.
As we've been driving around the outskirts of the city, I've seen truck after truck loaded with civilians' belongings, mattresses, refrigerators, children and women all clearly fleeing what they know is already a war zone. But it is likely to get much, much worse in the days ahead.
But I think the rebels realize that they have no other choice. This has been a rebellion that's been underway for 17 months. And part of what has driven the countryside - entire communities, villages, and towns - to rise up against the government is the constant refrain we hear that "This government just kills us. If we say no to them, they will just come and kill us and arrest us and torture us."
Everybody I talk to has a relative who has been detained, who has been tortured, knows somebody who's been killed at an anti-government demonstration. They say they have no other choice right now but to fight. ...
They're getting very little help from the outside world. I was shown an ammo dump hidden in a school that the rebels have, full of weapons that have been smuggled across the border from Turkey.
There were a lot of mortars, there were a lot of rocket-propelled grenades, there were a lot of machine gun rounds. But as one expert told me, that would only be good for about a half-hour's battle. And this is what these people are relying on to try to hold on to entire neighborhoods of this city.