Rebel-held Aleppo faces food shortages after regime advance

Aleppo Bombing

Aleppo Bombing

Residents of rebel-held areas of Syria’s Aleppo on Saturday faced food and fuel shortages after a Syrian government advance cut the opposition’s last supply route into the city.

The army, for its part, said it was extending a 72-hour nationwide truce that began on Wednesday but has produced little respite in fighting.

About 200,000 people remain in the opposition-held eastern sectors of Aleppo, which has been divided between government and rebel control since shortly after fighting in the city erupted in mid-2012.

Residents there described shortages of basic goods after government troops advanced within firing range of the key Castello Road supply route.

“For two days the situation was calm, I went to the market and I filled up my motorbike with gasoline. Today, I couldn’t even find a single tomato,” said Bilal Qaterji, a local textile factory employee.

“There’s not a drop of fuel left because the Castello Road has been cut,” he told AFP.

Government troops effectively severed the Castello Road on Thursday with the capture of a hilltop within firing range of the key route.

Rebel forces responded by firing barrages of rockets into the government-held west of the city on Friday, killing at least 41 people, most of them civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based monitoring group said 14 children were among the dead, while Syrian state media gave a toll of 43 dead and 300 injured.

The advance and ongoing fighting came despite the government’s announcement Wednesday of a 72-hour nationwide ceasefire for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Army says truce extended

The army said Saturday it was extending the truce for another 72 hours.

But the Observatory said fresh government air strikes on rebel-held Aleppo killed four civilians on Saturday.

The local civil defence unit said one of its centres had been targeted and a volunteer killed in the government air strikes.

The Observatory also said opposition fighters had renewed rocket fire on government-held districts.

And it reported government strikes east of Damascus, where regime troops took the town of Midaa, severing a key rebel supply route in the opposition-held Eastern Ghouta region.

In Aleppo, residents in the east said they feared ongoing shortages if the Castello Road remained closed.

“I worry that the Castello Road will be cut for a long time, it will lead to shortages of bread and other necessities,” said Ahmed Kanjou, an unemployed father of four.

Residents said prices were already rising, and many were bracing for the possibility of a lengthy siege.

Syria’s government has been accused of using siege tactics to pressure rebel forces, and the UN says nearly 600,000 Syrians live in besieged areas, most surrounded by government forces although rebels also use the method.

Activists and rights groups including Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have reported deaths from starvation in some besieged areas.

The Castello Road wraps around Aleppo’s eastern and northern edges and leads into rebel-controlled territory north of the battered city.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been trying to cut the route for more than two years and their Thursday advance brought them the closest so far to achieving that goal.

On Saturday, the army was less than 500 metres (yards) from the road, and soldiers were firing at anyone attempting to use the route.

The Observatory said a man and two children had been killed by regime fire on the road on Friday.

More than 280,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.