Cut off by ISIL advance, residents stranded in Syria's Aleppo
DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse
Civilians walk along a street during a rainy weather in a rebel-controlled area of Aleppo, Syria October 25, 2015. REUTERS/Hosam KatanHundreds of thousands of Aleppo residents are stranded and prices for basic goods are soaring after a jihadist advance cut the sole route to regime-held areas of Syria's second city.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) last week severed a road south of the city that formed part of the only remaining way out for residents of the government-held west of Aleppo.
With the route cut, the cost of everything from tomatoes to petrol has skyrocketed before the eyes of frustrated Aleppans.
"Within five days it has gotten to the point of madness," Salaheddin, 45, a real estate agent from the Saif al-Dawla neighbourhood, told AFP by telephone.
"A kilo of tomatoes today goes for between 900 and 1,000 Syrian pounds (around $3), seven times more than before," the father-of-four added.
"There are hardly any fruits and vegetables in the city, and there are no cars in the streets because the petrol stations are closed."
Once Syria's economic hub, Aleppo has been ravaged by war and divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since shortly after fighting there began in mid-2012.
The main Aleppo-Damascus highway out of the city has been cut by rebels since then, but last year regime troops opened another route running through the towns of Safireh and Khanasser to government-controlled Hama and Homs.
Last week an IS advance severed the route south of Khanasser, and on Oct. 27 ISIL forces also pushed into the outskirts of Safireh on the road.
The advances have stranded some in Aleppo, like 30-year-old Ahmed Rami, who moved from the city to Egypt with his family three years ago but was back visiting friends and family when the road was cut.
"The road was severed the day before I was due to travel to Beirut to continue my journey back to Cairo from the airport there," the trader told AFP.
"Since then I've been waiting impatiently for news that it has been reopened."
He said basic goods were no longer available in the city -- which before Syria's conflict was famed for the food and spice markets of its Old City.
"There's no gasoline so it's hard to move around the city, and the lack of fuel oil (for generators) means the city is going to be plunged into darkness."
Several residents accused shop owners and traders of seeking to exploit the crisis by hoarding goods and letting prices rise.
"Everyone knows that there are food reserves, but there are traders who are capitalising on the crisis to monopolise goods so that prices increase," said Anas Shaaban, a 28-year-old publishing house employee.
"The traders of Aleppo are known for their monopolies and trying to profit from crises," added Salaheddin.
Even people outside Aleppo have been affected by the crisis, including Damascus resident Ihab al-Sayed, who was due to marry his fiancee from Aleppo on Oct. 28.
"I've been forced to postpone my wedding," he said.
"This is the fourth time I've delayed it, but in the past it was because of the economic crisis, and debts and costs," the telecommunications employee said.
"This time it's because the road to Aleppo is closed. They've told us it will open soon, and my bride and I are waiting."
Dima Hariri, a 23-year-old living in Aleppo, was also hoping to leave this week -- to begin a long journey to Germany as a refugee.
"I was planning to emigrate to Germany, going via Beirut airport to Turkey," she said.
"My plan meant I was supposed to be in Beirut on Thursday [Oct. 29] but now this is impossible."
Not everyone is disappointed that the road is cut.
Bayan Azzam, a 22-year-old arts student at Latakia University, came to Aleppo to visit relatives last week and is now stuck.
"I'm not sad because it's a good chance to spend more time with my family and friends," she said.
And others are convinced the road won't stay out of commission for long.
"I don't think the Russians will allow it to remain cut for much longer," said 42-year-old Abdel Rahman Abboud, referring to Moscow's air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
"Aleppans can adapt to any living circumstances, they have lived through all kinds of death," he said.
"They just get bored when the Internet is cut, not the road."