In battle-scarred Aleppo, even bread lines aren't a safe place for Syrians

Syrian civilians who have remained in Aleppo through weeks of fierce fighting face food and fuel shortages and live in fear of being killed while going about their daily tasks. 

Youssef Boudlal/REUTERS
Syrians queue to buy bread at a local bakery in Aleppo August 28. Seventy-five members of the Saraya brigade organize daily sales of bread to residents of Aleppo, according to the head of the brigade.

Outside a bakery in Aleppo, scores of people waiting to buy bread scurried toward the nearest wall for cover as a government helicopter passed by overhead. Less than two weeks ago, residents say, an air strike hit a nearby bakery, claiming the lives of more than 30 people who had queued up to make their purchases.

As the battle for Aleppo enters its seventh week, even a task as simple as buying bread has become a potentially deadly chore. Many residents say they live in fear of government planes targeting the large crowds that form as people wait up to three hours for bread, the long lines a result of food and fuel shortages brought on by 18 months of violence and upheaval.

“We are living with fear and the fighting with government Army,” says Abdul Qadir Sheb, a construction worker who had been in line for more than an hour.

The Syrian uprising has claimed the lives of more than 23,000 people across the country. Here in the city of Aleppo, where government forces and rebels have massed for what has been described as one of the most critical battles of the war, those civilians who remain say they face a dire situation.

Though Free Syria Army officials say the rebel group now controls up to 70 percent of the city, FSA fighters say their progress has been slowed by Syrian government aircraft and artillery, which they lack the weaponry to effectively counter. The fighting has made it difficult to bring food and supplies into the city, driving up prices.

In the past month, the prices of staples such as rice have increased by as much as 50 percent and some items have even doubled or tripled in cost, say residents. With daily battles and shelling continuing to rock Aleppo, most of the economic activity and development has ground to a halt, meaning many are left without regular work as they struggle to deal with inflation.

“I have some savings, but if the situation continues like this for another two months, I will have nothing but dirt,” says Mohammad Abu Omar, a carpenter who says he has had little to no work in the past year.

Along with his family, Mr. Omar is the last remaining resident in his 25-unit apartment building. If the violence doesn't abate in the coming weeks, he hopes to flee to Lebanon.

Fighting in Aleppo is now relatively contained and restricted to several areas inside the city, but even in places without fighting, where residents attempt to go about their lives normally, artillery fire and aerial bombardment are a constant threat.

At a small hospital that has stopped treating patients with routine medical issues so that it can focus on civilians wounded in the fighting, doctors say the constant bombardment has left them unable to keep patients in the hospital after they receive initial treatment.

The upper floors of the hospital have been damaged in at least four artillery and jet attacks. In one bombing, the hospital staff say it seemed like jets only bombed the hospital, leading them to believe the facility is a target of regime forces and not a safe place to keep the wounded.

“We don’t have don’t have enough doctors, and most important, we don’t have enough oxygen. A jet destroyed our oxygen machine,” says Abdul Ismail, an anesthesiologist who says he also does the work of a doctor due to personnel shortages. In the midst of a battle whose ending is still far from determined, many residents say they are beginning to despair.

“I’m expecting the worst. There is no progress in this crisis,” says Mohammad Rehowi, a shoemaker.

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