A child runs a stall in Azaz, near Aleppo
A Syrian boy waits for customers at a roadside stall in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, on August 11. There's still money to be made by street vendors, even as the fight between Syrian state troops and rebel fighters engulfs parts of Aleppo. © Phil Moore - AFP/File
A child runs a stall in Azaz, near Aleppo
Sara Hussein, AFP
Last updated: August 22, 2012

Traders eke out living in Aleppo as fighting rages

A Syrian army fighter jet sweeps low over buildings near Aleppo's Shaar roundabout, but Ahmed Shamta doesn't give it a second glance -- he's busy closing a sale on a pair of plastic sandals.

"I can't give them to you for 150 (Syrian pounds), the price has gone up, they're 250 now," he tells a customer, who examines the sandals closer, weighing whether to make the purchase.

Around them, residents are looking up into the sky, tracking the progress of the plane as it arcs up and down, distinct thuds emanating from nearby neighbourhoods as it fires on the houses below.

But under the highway overpass where Shamta and a handful of other merchants ply their trade, the bid to make a sale continues.

In the end, the customer agrees the price, and walks off with a shiny chestnut pair of fake leather sandals, stepping off past the crowd of gawking men and children.

Across from Shamta, a rebel commander is shouting orders, dispatching fighters to the neighbourhoods being targeted by the plane, cheering on men as they head off in a pick-up truck mounted with an anti-aircraft gun.

It might not be a dream sales spot, but there's still money to be made, even as the fight between Syrian state troops and rebel fighters engulfs parts of Aleppo.

On one side of the flyover, a cluster of white minibuses wait to pick up residents, and on the street several shops are open, despite the clear danger on the ground and from the skies.

Shamta brushes off the risks.

"I've been selling shoes here my whole life," says Shamta. "It's all I know."

"I come here every day, whether or not there's fighting, I have to provide for my children," the 48-year-old says, his tanned face creasing into a smile as he presents two of his sons.

Since the fighting started, Shamta has raised his prices, but only, he says, because the wholesaler he goes to every two or three days, has upped his prices too.

Now the shoes start at 250 Syrian pounds ($3.81, 3.09 euros) and go up to twice that. If he's lucky, he earns between 4,000 and 6,000 Syrian pounds a day.

At a nearby stall, Mohamed Hamza is waging a furious but futile battle to keep hundreds of flies from crawling over his wares, piles of ripe green grapes.

"It's hard, of course, to work like this, to work in a war, but if we don't work, we don't eat," he says, transferring bunches from their crates to the stall.

"There are still people here, and they need to eat, so they come and they buy, even in the middle of the war, even when there's fighting."

Hamza started working as fruit seller at 13, and has followed the same routine for years, heading to the Souk al-Hal wholesale area each day and buying whatever fruit is ripe for resale in Aleppo's Shaar district.

Across the road, behind a stall selling keys and locks, 19-year-old Anwar Eskayf sweats as he heaves olives into buckets where they can be scrutinised by customers.

There are hard, bright green ones, glistening with oil, and light brown ones that sit next to a tub containing a spicy mix of sliced olives and fiery peppers.

He heaves a red crate from the shop floor and tips it, letting wrinkled black olives tumble out into a white bucket up front, then rakes through them to remove a few stray leaves and coat the olives in oil.

"I'm like anyone else in the world, I have to work to live, even though I might die to do it," he says, scooping a customer's selection into a bag.

"Whoever is going to die is going to die, it's fate," he shrugs.

While others have fled the city, 19-year-old Eskayf has no plans to leave.

"Aleppo is where I'm from, I don't have anywhere else to go. I open the shop every day in the morning, and I close it every day in the evening. I'm not going anywhere."

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