A man sells garlic at a deserted market in a rebel-held neighbourhood of the divided Syrian city of Aleppo on September 8, 2016
A man sells garlic at a deserted market in a rebel-held neighbourhood of the divided Syrian city of Aleppo on September 8, 2016 © Thaer Mohammed - AFP
A man sells garlic at a deserted market in a rebel-held neighbourhood of the divided Syrian city of Aleppo on September 8, 2016
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Karam Al-Masri, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Besieged again, east Aleppo shoppers scour meagre markets

In the deserted market of Aleppo's rebel-held east, once again besieged by government forces, a lone Syrian vendor weighs a withered bunch of purslane -- virtually the only item for sale.

The stalls of Tariq al-Bab's vegetable market are still organised in neat rows and shaded by tattered sheets.

But since a government advance this week cut off Aleppo's eastern districts for the second time in two months, no food has entered the battered neighbourhood.

One man slouches behind an empty table as a teenage boy cycles past clutching a precious handful of parsley.

"This siege is much harder than the first one. During the first one, there were at least some products still in the market -- now there's nothing at all," laments shopper Omar al-Beik.

"No products, no vegetables, no sugar. Nothing. We came to buy a few things to cook and we couldn't find a thing," he tells AFP.

Syria's government forces first encircled eastern Aleppo in mid-July, sealing off the northern route used by the estimated 250,000 residents of the opposition-held neighbourhoods.

A major rebel push in early August successfully opened an alternate route via the southern district of Ramussa, but regime loyalists retook it earlier this week.

The renewed siege has brought an even deeper sense of despair to residents of eastern Aleppo, regularly bombarded by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

- 'Longer, more difficult siege' -

"My stall used to be full of all kinds of produce -- potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, everything. Now all we have is purslane," says seller Abu Ahmad.

He has a thin, angular face and stands behind a simple metal stall displaying a small mound of purslane.

"A kilo of it used to cost 10 Syrian pounds, and no one used to buy it. Now it costs 200 Syrian pounds ($0.9) and everyone uses it to stew, sometimes with tomato, and to make salads."

"We cook it because we have to."

In the nearby Al-Sakhur district, Abu Omar says he is bracing himself for more shortages.

He and his three children are surviving on rice, bulghur wheat and lentils, and have not had bread in three days.

"There's a risk that we'll be starving in two weeks," he says.

"I get the feeling that this siege will be longer and more difficult than the first one, and that we'll live like this until they evacuate us in buses like the residents of Daraya."

After four years under regime siege, the town of Daraya near Damascus agreed to a "local truce" with government forces that saw thousands bussed out of their hometown.

According to the UN, nearly 600,000 people across Syria are living under siege, mostly encircled by regime forces though anti-government forces also use the brutal tactic.

- 'What will we live on?' -

In Aleppo's Al-Mashhad district, the scene is a little livelier: vendors rinse their vegetables with water as they call out to strolling shoppers.

Women and children carefully inspect neat piles of purple eggplant and pale courgettes, lying next to piles of dry bread.

"We have some land nearby, and this is what it provides, just some zucchini and herbs," a vegetable vendor says, his face damp with sweat.

He pockets a few bills from one of his customers, an elderly man in a white robe who loads his newly-purchased vegetables into a plastic crate fixed onto a bicycle.

"The prices are exorbitant and there's not enough in the market," says Abu Ali.

"As soon as the siege came into place, all the shopkeepers raised their prices. A kilo of tomatoes cost 200 Syrian pounds and then overnight it became 500. It's the same tomato!" he tells AFP.

"What will we live on? When the stocks are done, we'll be forced to eat grass."

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