Middle East

Syria activists protest rebel siege of Aleppo districts

Free Syrian Army fighters pray along a street in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighbourhood July 9, 2013. Picture taken July 9, 2013. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah (SYRIA - Tags: CONFLICT)

BEIRUT: Activists in Aleppo have held protests calling for the lifting of a rebel siege of regime-held districts of Syria's second city that has created food shortages, activists said on Wednesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the first demonstration calling for the siege to be lifted came on Tuesday, adding that one protester was shot dead.

It said it was unclear who had shot the demonstrator, but protesters took to the streets again on Wednesday.

A video of Tuesday's protest posted by the Observatory on Wednesday showed a small group of youths chanting "the people want to break the siege".

Four men in black t-shirts, one of them armed with a handgun, are seen pushing the protesters back. The sound of gunfire can be heard, but it is unclear where the shooting comes from.

Rebel forces have imposed a siege on several regime-controlled neighbourhoods, where government forces have unable to deliver food.

The blockade has created food shortages and pushed up prices as Muslims begin the holy fasting month of Ramadan, when the observant traditionally break the daytime fast with feasting and hospitality at sundown.

Another video posted by the Observatory showed that the siege policy does not have the full support of the rebel fighters supposed to enforce it.

The footage shows a woman accompanied by her child trying to cross into regime-held Ashrafiyeh with a pram full of shopping bags.

"I came to buy food. We have nothing, our children are dying of hunger. My son is sick and needs medicine and to eat," the woman pleads with a rebel fighter armed with a Kalashnikov.

Her plea sparks an exchange between two rebels, one trying to convince the other to let her pass with the food.

"What crime has this woman committed? She bought two kilos of potatoes, two kilos of tomatoes and some bread to allow her to keep her children alive," one rebel says.

The other fighter suggests consulting a rebel commander, but the proposal is rejected by his comrade.

"I know what he'll say. He will repeat that this is Islam and the other side are apostates, but that's not true."

Rebel forces have sought to block the entry of food and medicines to regime-held parts of Aleppo for some time, but in recent days they have succeeded in blockading the districts completely after cutting off regime access to the area by blowing up a bridge and blocking a key road.

In Damascus, a senior foreign ministry official told journalists the government was concerned about the plight of civilians in Aleppo, after talks with UN representatives.

"We had an important meeting to increase our joint efforts to send urgent humanitarian aid to Aleppo province and we agreed to begin this work from tomorrow," the official said.

Rebel forces entered Aleppo a year ago and have seized large swathes of the northern city but have failed to capture all of it.

Elsewhere in the country, the Observatory said a child and four women were killed when a shell hit their car in the hill resort of Zabadani, northwest of the capital.

In the central city of Homs, where the army has been trying to retake rebel-held districts in the centre, the Observatory reported that troops had captured several parts of the Bab Hud neighbourhood.

The army offensive, now in its 13th day, has caused enormous damage, according to activists.

One activist told AFP that hundreds of trapped civilians were experiencing food shortages and power cuts as they marked the first day of Ramadan.

Nationwide at least 81 people were killed on Tuesday, the Observatory said.





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