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Food aid being sold in Syrian stores, activists say

Tins of fava beans with the World Food Program’s logo displayed and the message ‘this can not for sale.’

Since late last year, there have been reports of foreign food aid being sold in stores across government-controlled parts of the city of Homs.

An activist in the city now says more types of tinned fava beans have been found for sale at stores in the city.

The photo accompanying this post is one of three sent that show tins of fava beans with the World Food Program's logo displayed and the message 'this can not for sale.'

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Geo-tagging information on these photos tells us they were taken in or close to Homs.

Alaa, an activist who uses the pseudonym Big Al Brand, said he bought several of these tins before realizing they were WFP aid. The photos are his.

He says other food aid for sale in the city includes flour which had been divided up into smaller portions and re-sold in one kilo bags.

"The flour prices are high, around 90 (Syrian) pounds (about 85 Canadian cents) a kilo," Alaa said. "It was 45 pounds last year."

He added that the WFP tinned beans were being sold slightly below the market price – "50 pounds a can while regular non-WFP are 60-65 Syrian pounds."

The owner of the shop where the food aid is being sold was apparently shot multiple times by security forces in late 2011 and fears speaking to the foreign press.

Of course, we can't verify the extent of these claims. The Syrian government carefully vets the reporters it grants visas to, and journalists inside Syria are heavily restricted in where they can work and whom they can speak to.

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The WFP denies that food aid is being sold in significant quantities in Homs, but reports of aid being seized by Syrian troops have surfaced in the past.

"In all the sites, villages and sub-districts visited by WFP, our teams did not notice or see any WFP food commodity being sold in the market," said Laure Chadraoui, a WFP public information officer.

"In some very limited cases, individuals might resort to trading some commodities we provide for cash example to pay for transportation. But again, this is not a phenomenon at any scale."

Huge pledges of money for Syrians were made at a major conference in January, but those inside are expected to receive only a fraction.

Only one-third of the $1.5-billion (U.S.) pledged at the gathering of countries in Kuwait on Jan. 30 was designated for Syrians displaced inside the country. The $591-million that is to go to people in-country will be handled by the Syrian government, something that has angered activists and opponents of the Assad regime.

In February, the World Food Program announced plans to reach 2.5 million people in Syria by April. The UN says more than a million people inside Syria are in need of food aid.

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Looking to Canada, of the $23.5-million disbursed to Syrians by CIDA last year, only $9.3-million was provided for operations inside the country. The WFP says that on average 40 to 45 per cent of the areas it has been reaching are opposition-controlled, but violence regularly stops it from reaching communities most in need.

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