Aleppo, Syria – Castello Road is rebel-held eastern Aleppo’s lifeline.
As the only supply route into the embattled part of Syria’s largest city, it plays a crucial role in ensuring that residents of Aleppo, who are largely dependent on outside aid, can receive food, medical items and other essentials.
But after government forces recently cut off the route and attempts by opposition fighters to reopen it failed, residents of Aleppo have found themselves under increasing pressure.
“Castello Road is important because it’s the only way to get food into the city, and there are no good work opportunities,” local merchant Ahmed Hamsho told Al Jazeera.
Hamsho and other residents of eastern Aleppo have complained of predatory price hikes since the access road was cut off.
“The prices rose because of insufficient supplies and the monopoly sellers have on food. They’re taking advantage of the siege and selling at obscene prices,” Hamsho said. “We have no control over this.”
Prices of staple foods, gas and other products have skyrocketed as aid organisations struggle to reach the city. Meanwhile, fierce fighting continues throughout the area.
“The current impact of the blockade lies in the empty streets and the empty vegetable stalls,” independent journalist Abd Alkader Habak told Al Jazeera.
“Prices have risen by 300 percent, which is affecting people who already don’t work or may have low incomes,” Habak said. “Castello Road is the city’s artery, and its cut-off ended food and medical supplies … People are fighting over loaves of bread to feed their families now.”
Castello Road is the city's artery, and its cut-off ended food and medical supplies … People are fighting over loaves of bread to feed their families now.
The situation has been compounded by the fact that Aleppo lacked a strong agricultural economy even before the war, and there has been significant damage to this sector since Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011.
Delivering aid throughout Syria was already extremely challenging, but the government’s cut-off of Castello Road has made distributing humanitarian aid to eastern Aleppo nearly impossible, aid workers say.
“Since mid-May, it’s been nearly impossible to get in [to Aleppo]. The last few weeks, [Castello Road] looks completely closed,” said Christy Delafield, a senior global communications officer with Mercy Corps, one of the most prominent aid organisations operating inside Syria.
Delafield echoed Aleppo residents’ concerns about the increases in prices for basic goods since the road was closed.
“The prices of rice, sugar, flour, bread and other staple foods have increased, and some staple foods are not available. There’s also a limited availability of fresh vegetables, if there are any at all,” she told Al Jazeera, noting that Mercy Corps had stockpiled food and other aid in the city for situations like this – but it will not last for ever.
“We’re calling on all parties to allow humanitarian aid to come in,” Delafield said, stressing the need for a long-term cessation of hostilities in Syria and protection for aid workers. “There have been brief ceasefires, but they’re not helpful. We need something predictable and longer.”
The ceasefire observed for Eid al-Fitr, the feast marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, ended last week as government planes struck rebel positions near Aleppo.
Castello Road’s significance to both government and rebel forces is clear. For Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who vowed to “liberate every inch of Syria” in a June speech to parliament, taking the entirety of Syria’s prewar economic and cultural hub would be huge, and control of its last entry and exit point is a key step towards that goal.
For rebel forces, a supply route to and from eastern Aleppo is crucial to ensuring the survival of residents and to maintaining the system of government and society they have set up outside of Assad’s control.
Many of those who still live in eastern Aleppo do so out of a commitment to the Syrian uprising, ties to rebel groups, or attachment to their homes. Hamsho has lived in Aleppo most of his life, but says the economic situation is so bad that he will leave as soon as the road opens up.
In the meantime, residents will continue to brave the bombs, price hikes and shortages that now constitute daily life in eastern Aleppo.
“The thing I fear the most is hunger for the children,” Habak said. “It’s a very difficult situation for them.”