Panic is setting in after pro-regime forces cut off the last road leading into rebel-held east Aleppo last week, three residents told Syria Direct on Tuesday.

Syrian army units, supported by Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias, captured territory in the Mallah farms area, northwest of Aleppo city last Thursday.

That allowed pro-regime fighters to fire on any vehicle travelling along the Castello Road, the last supply route leading into rebel-held Aleppo—effectively cutting off the city from the outside world.

Since then, the price of bread has doubled. The price of fuel, used for cooking and operating generators, has increased by 50 percent. 

 A man walks past empty markets in east Aleppo on Monday. Photo courtesy of Karam al-Masri.

Some east Aleppo residents say merchants are exploiting the situation by raising prices on basic necessities.

On Sunday, three of east Aleppo’s largest rebel factions, Ahrar a-Sham, the Nour a-Din a-Zinki Brigade and Tajamua Fastaqum Kama Umert, issued a statement warning shop owners against price gouging.

Any store owners caught unfairly raising prices “will be held accountable and imprisoned,” read the statement.

But store owners say the price hikes are outside their control—resulting from what they refer to as the “siege” of the area from regime forces.

“The price hikes are not because we are gouging, but just because there are fewer goods and demand is higher,” Abu Mohammed, the a general store owner in east Aleppo, tells Syria Direct’s Noura al-Hourani.

Q: What effect is the closure of the Castello road, the last route into eastern Aleppo, having on the supply of food and other basic necessities?

My merchandise started to run out the day after the [Castello] road was closed [last Thursday]. In a few days, I’ll have to close my store.

After the regime closed in on the road, every car or truck became a target. We can’t enter any merchandise. Whatever rations we have will be sold in a few days.

Most basic goods, such as fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy, can’t be stored—we have to bring them in every day.

Q: Some residents of eastern Aleppo are accusing merchants of price gouging and of holding goods until prices rise even further.

Prices began to double the day after the road was closed, but this is normal in these types of crises. The price hikes are not because we are gouging, but just because there are fewer goods and demand is higher.

I’m not saying there haven’t been some infractions by people taking advantage of the crisis. In any case it won’t matter for long because the goods we all have left will run out in a few days.