For first time in weeks, Syrians descend on full markets in Aleppo

Aleppo (Syria) (AFP) - For the first time in nearly a month, the markets in opposition-held districts of Syria's Aleppo were bustling on Wednesday with eager shoppers snatching up vegetables, chicken, and cigarettes.

Food stalls and neighbourhood shops had been empty of customers for several weeks after a government siege of the eastern districts led to rising prices and shortages.

A rebel advance at the weekend broke through government territory south of the divided city, opening a new route for trucks carrying goods and fuel, though the road has not been fully secured.

Nearly-incredulous shoppers scurried through the vegetable markets on Wednesday, buying as quickly as possible in case a siege is re-imposed or prices rise again.

A pack of cigarettes — 1,500 Syrian pounds ($3) when Aleppo was encircled — dropped to the much more affordable price of 300 pounds on Wednesday.

Owners of shops and restaurants that had shuttered their doors because they had no goods to sell excitedly reopened them.

"This morning, a number of trucks carrying vegetables and other food entered the markets in my neighbourhood," 38-year-old Abu Omar told AFP in the rebel-held Sukkari district.

"The stalls were full of all kinds of things I hadn't seen in a month. I bought potatoes, tomatoes, and chicken, and I'll ask my wife to make us grilled chicken with potatoes tonight," he said, smiling.

Fruit and vegetables had trickled in during the weekend, but residents said Wednesday was the closest to full the shops had been in weeks.

Fighting between government forces and rebels in Aleppo has intensified in the past month, with both sides sending in reinforcements for an all-out battle that could mark a turning point in the five-year war.

Russia's military announced a three-hour daily halt of fighting starting on Thursday to allow humanitarian convoys to reach Aleppo, which has been engulfed in heavy fighting.

But the UN's top aid official said the pauses would not be enough to meet the needs of civilians in the northern city.

"To meet that capacity of need, you need two lanes and you need to have about 48 hours to get sufficient trucks in," Stephen O'Brien told reporters.

The United Nations has repeatedly called for a full-fledged ceasefire or at least 48-hour weekly pauses for the aid deliveries.

Aleppo was once Syria's commercial powerhouse, but fighting that broke out in 2012 has left the city divided and its infrastructure in ruins.

More than 290,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

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