ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) - In Syria’s once-affluent merchant city of Aleppo, a 60-year-old man wrapped in several layers of clothes queues alongside his shivering grandchildren for bread - a daily and often fruitless ritual that consumes most of his day.
Shielding himself from the rain in Bustan al-Qasr, a rebel-held district in the south-west of Syria’s biggest city, Alaa el-Din Hout says shortages of food and fuel are driving his family and many other residents to desperation.
“We’re starving. I can bear it but what about my children? I stand from 3 in the afternoon until 11 at night and you can’t always get bread,” said Hout, wearing a winter hat and scarf to keep out the winter cold.
“We’re reduced to either begging or stealing.”
Five months after rebels brought their fight against President Bashar al-Assad into the heart of Aleppo, the eastern and southern swathes of the city are a mishmash of deserted districts and no-man’s land.
Rebel fighters have hunkered down in warehouses to halt offensives by Assad’s forces in the civil war. The few lucky bakeries in Aleppo that have supplies often have hundreds standing in line, hoping for a few loaves.
Abu Abdo, Hout’s son-in-law, has three children, the youngest a 2-month-old baby shivering underneath wraps of blankets. “This is the hardest period I’ve ever gone through. There’s no work, no industry, no electricity, no diesel. How will people live?” said the former stonemason.
“The people have a right to demand their freedom, that’s the least of the demands - I am for the downfall of the regime.”
“NO WATER, NO GAS”
The summer battles around Aleppo have subsided but Syrians in this city, whose peacetime population of 2.5 million has been reduced by an exodus of hundreds of thousands, are facing new challenges of winter cold and wartime shortages.
Some districts are faring better, with vegetable sellers laying out tomatoes and tangerines and falafel shops frying the ubiquitous bean food. But many people are too poor to afford it.
“We can’t find any bread. There’s a famine. People are dying, half the bakeries are closed. There’s no flour,” said one man in al-Sha‘ar district.
Ahmed, a 42-year-old man with six children, said he queued from 8 in the morning. “Sometimes we get bread, sometimes we don‘t. There’s no water, no gas, no electricity. The water supply runs out every two days.”
Not all the city’s residents hold Assad responsible for their suffering. Aleppo has traditionally been a city with divided loyalties and even in areas controlled by the rebels, some people have had enough of the daily shortages and blame them on the president’s opponents.
“We don’t leave our homes after 6 p.m. We just want peace again,” said Um Saleh, a woman wearing a face veil and a full-length black wool coat. She blamed the Free Syrian Army rebels for hijacking bread lines to take loaves for their family.
Her husband Abu Saleh said “mistakes” had been made by Assad’s officials but added: “You can’t fix wrong with wrong.”
Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Trevelyan