Jean-Pierre Campagne, AFP
Last updated: 4 October, 2012

Struggling to make ends meet in battlefield Aleppo

Abu Ahmed was a tailor before the war but now he has no more customers as ferocious fighting has ripped through the historic heart of Syria’s commercial capital Aleppo.

Ismail Basha street lead into the city’s famed souk and would once have been packed with tourists wandering around the ancient covered market’s warren of alleyways.

But now it is just 100 metres (yards) from the front line, where rebels and government troops exchange mortar and small arms fire daily.

Its residents have almost all left but a few stallholders stay on to try and scrape what money they can.

Bakri and Nasser, eight and 10 respectively, man their father’s stall, selling coffee beans and cardamon.

Asked if they are scared of living amid the constant barrage of bombs and bullets, the elder boy shrugs. “Of course I am. Who wouldn’t be?”

A Syrian air force plane makes two passes high above. The remaining traders eye it nervously, conscious that the Russian-made jet could make a bombing run at any moment as the government tries to make use of its superior firepower against the lightly armed rebels.

Across the street, the butcher tosses morsels of unsold lamb to cats permanently stationed beneath a burnt-out car outside his shop. He then painstakingly washes the ground outside just in case he is lucky enough to have a customer.

A street seller dressed in a torn vest sets out his stall of contraband Western cigarettes on the pavement. “I’ve been doing this for a week. I’m really a clothes seller, but I have no customers,” he says.

Other stallholders too are forced to branch out and sell whatever they can rather than just their usual goods. The herb merchant is new to his product line, as is the man selling corn on the cob.

They work long hours to make any money. Zacharia says he works from daybreak to nightfall. He buys 100 ears of corn each morning for 10.5 pounds ($0.15/0.12 euros) each and sells them for 15 ($0.22/0.17 euros).

Abu Ahmed, the former tailor, says he is now completely without work. The 53-year-old has lived on Ismail Basha street for 22 years. He has nowhere else to go and in any case says he does not wish to join the flood of Syrian refugees to neighbouring countries.

“I want to stay here in my country. I’ll live here or die,” he says.

The remaining traders on Ismail Basha street are all desperate for the conflict ravaging their city and their country to end. In the meantime they try desperately to get by.

The cigarette seller holds up a bunch of parsley, bemoaning the rampant inflation. “Everything is going up. This used to cost one pound, now it’s 25.”

Prices have skyrocketed in the war-torn country. Eggs have gone up six-fold, bread doubled. A canister of cooking gas has jumped from 275 pounds to 4,000 ($59/45 euros).

As darkness descends, Ismail Basha street empties. “We don’t dare stay out come nightfall,” says Abu Ahmed.