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Rebels fire shots at Syria food protest

Rebels fired into the air to disperse a protest by civilians in a rebel-held district of Aleppo.

FILE: A group of rebels on a tank in Darkoush, Syria. Picture: Rahima Essop/EWN.

BEIRUT - Syrian rebels fired into the air on Wednesday 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 northern city, residents said.

Rebel fighters have stopped supplies entering western parts of Aleppo for weeks. The tactic is aimed at weakening the supply routes of President Bashar al-Assad's forces but thousands of civilians are now going hungry, residents say.

Video footage 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 to shop or meet family members and friends.

Another video footage showed men at the protest chanting, "The people want an end to the blockade." A rebel fighter brandishes a pistol and then a gunshot is heard as the video ends.

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

Reuters was not able to confirm the report due to media and security restrictions in Syria.

More than 100,000 people have reportedly died in Syria's two-year conflict. It started because Assad's force fired live ammunition against pro-democracy protests, leading to an armed revolt.

RELIGIOUS COURTS

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

Although the area is only five km from the WFP warehouse, Howardsays convoys were "either turned back, did not get approval or came under fire."

In Aleppo, the WFP has delivered rations to more than 250,000 people in the weeks leading up to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Residents in western Aleppo say food prices have jumped to more than ten times their original level and basics such as bread and flour have become harder to find.

Civilians say they are stockpiling food, such as bulgur wheat and rice, which are still available. They say some vegetables are still being sold in markets.