120,000 people without bread after alleged Russian airstrike hits bakery

AMMAN: A bread oven that served an estimated 120,000 people in and around an opposition-held western Aleppo town is completely out of commission after a reported Russian airstrike, a journalist in the town told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

The bread oven in Atareb, a town roughly 25km west of Aleppo city, was among three civilian targets struck near sunset on Tuesday by what opposition media and journalists have identified as Russian warplanes.

The oven was “the largest in terms of size and production in the western Aleppo countryside” before it was bombed on Tuesday, Amer al-Faj, a journalist from the town told Syria Direct on Wednesday. Strikes also hit an industrial secondary school and the transportation directorate.

Syrian state media did not report strikes on Atareb, which is controlled by several rebel factions, including FSA brigades and Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat a-Nusra. While the Islamic State had a presence in the town in 2013, its fighters were driven out in fighting with other rebels in January 2014.

 The Atareb Bakery after Tuesday’s airstrikes. Photo courtesy of Aleppo Today.

While Tuesday’s strikes caused massive material damages, only minor injuries were reported, as the oven was closed when it was bombed.

Machinery lay overturned amidst piles of rubble in images posted online Tuesday by pro-opposition Aleppo Today. Another video posted online by pro-opposition Orient news shows large metal bins of dough covered in dust and debris. Another shot shows sacks of flour, some singed and others torn, their contents spilling out.

The bread produced by the Atareb oven before Tuesday’s strikes met the needs of “approximately 120,000 people” there and in 13 surrounding villages, al-Faj said.

Many of those threatened by the loss of the oven are internally displaced people from the southern Aleppo countryside, Homs, Idlib and Hama living in and around Atareb.

“We will have to gather bread from makeshift bakeries in neighboring areas,” al-Faj added. “But people’s needs exceed their capacity.”

Amidst fears of future bombings, it was not immediately clear whether the bakery could be repaired, or how long that process might take. Any delay “will exacerbate the crisis,” al-Faj told Syria Direct.

In Syria, as in surrounding countries, bread is a staple accompanying most meals.

Sources with the Russian government did mention air strikes in Aleppo on Tuesday, without mentioning the specific targets.

“A total of 127 sorties against 206 terrorist targets were scheduled for Tuesday,” including raids on “terrorist targets in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib,” state-owned TASS quoted  Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu as saying.

Al-Faj says that Russian planes did in fact strike Atareb. “We can distinguish the Russian planes by sight,” he says. “They come out in a formation,” usually of three planes, “not alone like regime planes,” an observation corroborated by Syria Direct’s reporting on Russian air raids. 

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.