x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Syrian rebels use gunfire to disperse food protest

Rebel fighters have stopped supplies entering western parts of Aleppo for weeks in an attempt to weaken the supply routes of the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, but thousands of civilians are going hungry, residents said.

Free Syrian Army fighters pray in a street in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighbourhood.
Free Syrian Army fighters pray in a street in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighbourhood.

BEIRUT // 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 city, residents said yesterday.

Rebel fighters have stopped supplies entering western parts of Aleppo for weeks in an attempt to weaken the supply routes of the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, but thousands of civilians are going hungry, residents said.

An internet video on Tuesday showed dozens of civilians in the rebel-held neighbourhood 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.

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 brandished a pistol and then a gunshot was heard at the video's end.

The Aleppo Martyrs opposition group said rebels fired at the protesters with one person killed and several others wounded. But a resident at the protest said the man was killed prior to the protest by army sniper fire as he tried to cross between rebel and government-held territory.

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria's two-year conflict, which began after Mr Al Assad's forces fired on pro-democracy protesters with live ammunition and sparked an armed insurgency.

Rebels control many parts of the country and have been blamed for similar abuses by rights groups, including torture and harsh punishments imposed by religious courts.

Humanitarian aid organisations said their shipments had 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," said Jane Howard, a United Nations World Food Programme spokeswoman.