Middle East

Aleppo's winter of discontent

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Media captionBBC's Ian Pannel in Aleppo: 'These people are refugees in their own city'

As the conflict in Syria enters a second winter, the BBC's Ian Pannell reports from the Syrian city of Aleppo on the struggle for survival of ordinary people.

Adnan Abu Hassan works over a small wood fire, spreading patties of dough over the back of a hot pan that rests on the charcoals until they become crisp flatbreads.

Adnan is not a baker; he is a painter but these are desperate times in Aleppo's sprawling al-Sukkari neighbourhood.

"There's no work at the moment," he says. "Life is very hard. I earn 100 Syrian pounds a day and I have to feed four children and pay the rent."

That is less than $1.50 or about 90 pence a day. In an economy ravaged by war, the value of the Syrian pound has fallen almost as rapidly as prices for basic goods have risen.

Inflation is rampant and unemployment is endemic. What Adnan earns from bread is simply not enough to survive and like most of his neighbours, he struggles to get by on handouts, donations and loans.

Restless crowds

The battle for Aleppo appears to have eased over the last few weeks but the suffering of those who live in this ancient city has not. Aleppo is facing a winter of misery and of dearth.

When the sun sets at 4:30, the streets are empty. The electricity supply was cut off days ago, in some areas weeks ago, and darkness seems to consume the city.

It is a cue for most to head home, cold and hungry. The few who do remain outdoors are to be found queuing in the dark for bread that has become a rare and precious commodity.

For most Syrians, the large flat loaves are the staple part of their diet, but shortages of fuel and flour have left many bakeries closed and others open only for a few hours.

The lines are long and people wait for hours to buy a pack of bread that cost 20 Syrian pounds before the revolution and now costs 200.

Abu Fadi had been waiting for three hours in the rain and still seemed far from the front of a queue that stretched around the corner.

"There is no bread, no water, no electricity, no work," he said. "It takes more than 24 hours to get bread and it's been five days since I was even able to take a shower."

The crowd is restless and fatigue and hunger are taking their toll. Arguments break out quickly as people push and shove each other to get closer to the bakery's door.

The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) tries to keep calm but increasingly it is the target of people's anger.

"I blame the FSA because it's in charge. The one in charge should provide water, food, everything," complained Abu Walid with righteous indignation. "Who's in charge? Aren't they in charge of us?"

Image caption Petrol is one of the many basic supplies running low in Aleppo

Consumed by loss

The rebels now seem to control a large portion of Aleppo's neighbourhoods.

They have fought hard and blocked several advances by government forces. Their apparent acquisition of surface-to-air missiles has at least given President Bashar al-Assad's air force pause for thought.

The skies over Aleppo that used to buzz to the sound of attack helicopters and the roar of fighter jets are largely clear, at least for now. Those jets that do make bombing runs now deploy chaff for protection.

As the fighting has intensified in the south near Damascus and military bases have come under attack by the rebels, loyalist forces are facing unprecedented pressure.

The FSA's success has been hard won but it now faces the challenge of providing for the people who are in effect under its jurisdiction. Many believe President Assad's men have deliberately cut the electricity and turned off the water supply in Aleppo.

There is no proof of that and, whatever the explanation, the rebels now have to cope with the consequences. The residents inevitably turn to their new masters but the FSA has neither the money nor the organisation to meet the most basic of needs and services.

Vast mounds of rubbish fester on the city's streets where the truly destitute sift for scraps of aluminium or plastic to sell in a hand-to-mouth struggle to survive.

Ahmed is one of them. Each day he slings a brown sack over his back and trudges through the filth and stench to feed his family who have been living in a primary school since their home was destroyed by artillery fire.

Image caption The destitute have been reduced to scavenging in rubbish to survive

"Those who did not leave were buried under the rubble of their own homes," he says.

Ahmed is a man consumed by loss. "My best friends are gone, dead. My eleven brothers are now dispersed all over Syria.

"If you manage to leave your house and come back, then that's great but you never know if you will ever return."

His life savings have been spent, he has lost his home and his job and now he spends each day trawling through rubbish. Syria's war arrived late to Aleppo but when it finally came it unleashed a whirlwind of death and destruction.

For now, the bombardment has slowed and the fighting has ebbed. The menace of fear has receded, but in its place are anger, suffering and simmering discontent.

One resident approached us and pointed at the destruction and rubbish piles, with heavy sarcasm he said, "Welcome to Free Syria".

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