Rebels are baking pita bread for their hungry comrades and residents.
ALEPPO, SYRIA - Just before sunrise, a select group of Syrian rebel fighters step away from the front lines for a task their commanders now consider a vital and urgent part of the war effort: baking bread.
The floppy moons that they produce, pita to Americans, usually go quickly to hungry residents and rebels. Bread is a staple of the Syrian diet -- it accompanies every meal -- and in a city paralyzed by two weeks of war, the bakery lines show that basic commerce has become a battleground of its own.
"The regime has tried to deprive our supporters of water and gas, and now they are using bread," said Basheer al-Hajeh, a member of Al Tawheed Brigade, one of the main rebel militias in Aleppo.
But he said the rebels have learned how to fight back against the government's attempts to keep bread and other resources out of opposition-controlled areas.
"We took control of the wheat warehouses in Aleppo's suburbs," he said. "We have many of them, in several areas, and they might keep us supplied for weeks."
As is often the case in war, food has become almost as important as bullets. And the struggle to keep bakeries operating is part of a much larger fight over the Syrian economy, especially in Aleppo, the country's commercial hub and its largest city. As the government of President Bashar Assad tries to project an image of normalcy, denying reports of runaway inflation, rebels say they are finding new ways to attract support from the business class and siphon off government resources.
Kamal Hamdan, a Lebanese economist, said both sides were engaged in efforts to replace the peacetime economy with their own wartime alternatives. "They are expecting a civil war that will take a long time and you have to sustain the daily life of the areas you are controlling," he said. "It's part of the game."
The government has a clear advantage. Its Central Bank reported foreign currency assets of about $17 billion, one month after the conflict started.
The government now appears to be asking Russia for loans to continue propping up the economy. Many analysts also suspect that the Syrians have found a way to sell oil, despite sanctions from Europe.
But after 17 months of conflict, the opposition is becoming more and more creative.
In Damascus, for example, activists say there are merchants that pretend to support Assad, only to funnel government-supplied cooking fuel, gasoline, bread and water to the other side.
"We ask them not to defect," said an opposition activist in Damascus. "They will be rewarded later."