A rebel fighter monitors a queue of people waiting to buy bread in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
A rebel fighter monitors a queue of people waiting to buy bread in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan. At the end of the holy month, food and the money to buy it are in increasingly short supply in the city. © Bulent Kilic - AFP
A rebel fighter monitors a queue of people waiting to buy bread in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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Jean-Marc Mojon, AFP
Last updated: August 19, 2012

Ramadan ends but fast stays in Syria's Aleppo

The end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan gave way to an involuntary fast on Sunday in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo, with food and the money to buy it in increasingly short supply.

On the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the feast marking the end of Ramadan and one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar, Aleppo's Shaar roundabout is usually packed with people shopping and visiting relatives.

"Look at it now, it's empty. The people have either left or are afraid to go out," said Abu Mohamed, a fruit seller who parked his cart under a flyover for fear of shelling, chasing flies away from his dismal display of pears.

"Frankly, I sometimes forget that it is Eid. There is no cause for celebration in this city. For me, it's just another day that God allowed me to live," said the 25-year-old.

Aleppo, a city with a 5,000-year history which once sat at the crossroads of the silk routes linking Europe to Asia and the caravans travelling from the Levant to Africa, remained the richest hub in Syria until last year.

Now the economy has ground to a halt.

The war has interrupted state-owned industrial activity in rebel zones, fuel shortages mean farmers and others cannot produce as usual and the mass exodus of residents fleeing the violence is stripping the market of customers.

Aleppo's remaining residents, mainly men who decided to stay to watch over their property or families who have nowhere else to go, argue the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is deliberately trying to starve the population.

Bakeries have been repeatedly hit by tank shells and air raids, in what Aleppians see as a message that whoever supports the rebel Free Syrian Army by staying in the city faces the risk of death to buy the staple bread.

On Saturday night, military helicopters dropped leaflets over the city urging residents not to shelter rebels.

In the central Al-Mayassar neighbourhood, some 60 men were lined up in the midday sun waiting to buy bread, queuing up on the opposite pavement to stay out of the shelling line.

The local bakery was miraculously still intact Sunday after a tank shell smashed into a shop to its left, killing one young girl four days earlier, and an air raid flattened an empty building to its right.

"They're trying to starve us to force us to leave the city. They are monsters," shouted Abu Issa, a 39-year-old builder who shipped his family out of town last week.

"There is no Eid for Bashar, nothing is holy for him. They are willing to strike anywhere, mosques, hospitals, bakeries, children. What kind of Eid is this?" he went on, as two armed rebels walked over to calm him down.

The families who usually walk across town dressed in their best finery to visit relatives and pay their respects to the dead on Eid al-Fitr were nowhere to be seen on Sunday.

Most of the vehicles venturing out were carrying armed rebels or families making a run for the Turkish border, slaloming around mushrooming open-air rubbish dumps and choke-points made out of tyres, cinder blocks and furniture.

Back on Shaar roundabout, Mustafa al-Omar was sorting nuts in the confectionery shop he has been running for 50 years.

"This is the saddest Eid I have ever known. There is nobody left in this city. People are not buying the traditional Eid sweets because they have no money," the 75-year-old said, turning his cataract-clouded eyes to the sky.

"But I have been running this shop since before (former president) Hafez al-Assad came to power and you will still find me here when his son Bashar is dead."

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