• IS advance isolates Syrian city of Aleppo

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    DAMASCUS: Hundreds of thousands of Aleppo residents are stranded and prices for basic goods are soaring after a jihadist advance cut the sole route to regime-held areas of Syria’s second city.

    The Islamic State group last week severed a road south of the city that formed part of the only remaining way out for residents of the government-held west of Aleppo.

    With the route cut, the cost of everything from tomatoes to petrol has skyrocketed before the eyes of frustrated Aleppans.

    “Within five days it has gotten to the point of madness,” Salaheddin, 45, a real estate agent from the Saif al-Dawla neighborhood, told AFP by telephone.

    “A kilo of tomatoes today goes for between 900 and 1,000 Syrian pounds (around $3), seven times more than before,” the father-of-four added.

    “There are hardly any fruits and vegetables in the city, and there are no cars in the streets because the petrol stations are closed.”

    Once Syria’s economic hub, Aleppo has been ravaged by war and divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since shortly after fighting there began in mid-2012.

    The main Aleppo-Damascus highway out of the city has been cut by rebels since then, but last year regime troops opened another route running through the towns of Safireh and Khanasser to government-controlled Hama and Homs.

    Last week an IS advance severed the route south of Khanasser, and on Tuesday IS forces also pushed into the outskirts of Safireh on the road.

    ‘My bride and I are waiting’
    The advances have stranded some in Aleppo, like 30-year-old Ahmed Rami, who moved from the city to Egypt with his family three years ago but was back visiting friends and family when the road was cut.

    “The road was severed the day before I was due to travel to Beirut to continue my journey back to Cairo from the airport there,” the trader told AFP.

    “Since then I’ve been waiting impatiently for news that it has been reopened.”

    He said basic goods were no longer available in the city — which before Syria’s conflict was famed for the food and spice markets of its Old City.

    “There’s no gasoline so it’s hard to move around the city, and the lack of fuel oil (for generators) means the city is going to be plunged into darkness.”

    Several residents accused shop owners and traders of seeking to exploit the crisis by hoarding goods and letting prices rise.

    “Everyone knows that there are food reserves, but there are traders who are capitalizing on the crisis to monopolize goods so that prices increase,” said Anas Shaaban, a 28-year-old publishing house employee.

    “The traders of Aleppo are known for their monopolies and trying to profit from crises,” added Salaheddin.

    Even people outside Aleppo have been affected by the crisis, including Damascus resident Ihab al-Sayed, who was due to marry his fiancée from Aleppo on Wednesday.

    AFP

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