Middle East

Aleppo residents call for lifting of Syrian rebel siege

YouTube clip said to be taken in Garden Palace area of Aleppo on 9 July showing crowds calling for the end of the siege.
Image caption Aleppo residents face food shortages and price rises

Dozens of Syrians in Aleppo have staged protests against a rebel siege of government-held areas in the city, residents have said.

Rebels stopped supplies from entering western parts of the city in a bid to weaken the supply routes for President Bashar al-Assad's forces, they add.

They say the blockade has led to severe food and medicine shortages.

The World Health Organization has urged Syrians to protect a convoy carrying medical supplies to the city.

One protester was reportedly shot dead at a demonstration on Tuesday, according to the UK-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group says it was not clear whether the man was shot by rebels trying to disperse the protest or killed by army sniper fire, as some civilians claimed.

Amateur footage uploaded onto YouTube shows dozens of men in civilian dress purportedly protesting at a checkpoint in the rebel-held district of Bustan al-Qasr, chanting: "The people want an end to the blockade."

The protest is disrupted by several men in black, one carrying a gun, followed by the sound of gunfire.

'Medieval conditions'

Many Aleppo residents are angered by the rebel blockade, which has created shortages of basics such as bread and flour, and hiked up food prices in several neighbourhoods at the start of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Aid agencies have voiced concern over the growing humanitarian crisis in the city after months of fierce fighting, with the World Health Organization calling on both sides of the conflict to guarantee the safety of a convoy carrying medical supplies to Aleppo.

Image caption Government forces continue their offensive on rebel-held areas of Homs

The UN's World Food Programme said it delivered food rations to more than 250,000 people ahead of the start of fasting. However, it also said that their aid shipments had been blocked by both sides across the country in recent months.

In Damascus, Syrian foreign ministry officials promised to increase efforts "to send urgent humanitarian aid to Aleppo province" after meeting UN representatives to discuss the crisis.

Residents in Homs are living under similar conditions, as government forces close in on some of the last remaining rebel positions there.

The government says it is focusing its campaign on the northern district of Khalidiya to root out "foreign subversion and domestic terrorism".

One activist told the BBC that hundreds of families were living in "medieval conditions", with no electricity or running water.

Meanwhile, rebel fighters in Khalidiya are becoming increasingly desperate, says the BBC's Paul Wood.

They have uploaded amateur videos of themselves wearing suicide belts, saying these are their only weapons now.

Most of Homs has been recaptured by government troops backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The UN says more than 90,000 people have been killed in Syria - with a further 1.7 million forced to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.