BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels fired into the air to disperse a protest by civilians in a rebel-held district of Aleppo against a blockade preventing food and medicine reaching government-held areas of the northern city, residents said on Wednesday.
Rebel fighters have stopped supplies entering western parts of Aleppo for weeks. The tactic is aimed at weakening the supply routes of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces but thousands of civilians are now going hungry, residents say.
Video footage posted on the Internet on Tuesday showed dozens of civilians in the rebel-held neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr protesting at a rebel checkpoint which prevents supplies from entering the western section of the city, home to 2 million people and held by the army.
Although insurgents and the army control different parts of the country, civilians are normally allowed to cross freely to shop or meet family members and friends.
The footage, posted by the opposition Bustan al-Qasr Information Office, showed men at the protest chanting, “the people want an end to the blockade.” A rebel fighter brandishes a pistol and then a gunshot is heard as the video ends.
An opposition activist group called the Aleppo Martyrs said rebels fired at the protesters, killing one person and wounding several others. But a resident at the protest said the man was killed prior to the protest by army sniper fire as he tried the cross between rebel and government-held territory.
Reuters was not able to confirm the report due to media and security restrictions in Syria.
More than 100,000 people have died in Syria’s two-year conflict. It started because Assad’s force fired live ammunition against pro-democracy protests, leading to an armed revolt.
Rebels who now control many parts of the country are blamed for similar abuses by rights groups, including torture and harsh punishments imposed by religious courts.
Humanitarian aid organizations say their shipments have been blocked by both rebels and the army in many parts of Syria.
“We are facing challenges delivering assistance throughout the country, especially in contested areas,” Jane Howard, a United Nations World Food Programme spokeswoman, said.
Howard said that WFP has tried eight times since October 2012 to deliver aid to Moadamiyeh, a suburb of Damascus that has been pummeled by air strikes and artillery.
Although the area is only five km (3 miles) from the WFP warehouse, Howard says convoys were “either turned back, did not get approval or came under fire.”
In Aleppo, the WFP has delivered rations to more than 250,000 people in the weeks leading up to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“We have our fingers crossed that if Aleppo goes through a particularly difficult period, we’ve managed to get enough food into the city to tide people over for the next month,” she said.
At the rebel checkpoint in the Aleppo neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr, a sign displayed by rebels read: “Food, medicine, oil, babies’ products, milk, vegetables, meat, bread: completely forbidden (from crossing).”
Residents in western Aleppo say food prices have jumped to more than ten times their original level and basics such as bread and flour have become harder to find.
Civilians say they are stockpiling food, such as bulgur wheat and rice, which are still available. They say some vegetables are still being sold in markets.
Reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Giles Elgood