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“The prison is surrounded from all sides,” Abu Thabet said. But rebels have been unable to take it because the troops inside have large amounts of ammunition “that will last them for a long time.”

A government official said the troops inside have been able to keep resupplied despite the siege. He would not saw how. But the military is known to send supplies to troops at other besieged bases in the area by helicopter airdrops. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have both reported acute shortage of food for prison inmates in Aleppo prison.

After extensive negotiations facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, rebels in July began allowing the Syrian Red Crescent to deliver food into the compound. The Red Crecent brought in some 5,000 meals during the subsequent Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which devout Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

The organization now delivers food to the prison two or three times a week, though rebels only let through precooked meals since they don’t want the government forces inside to stock food, said Khaled Iriqsousi who heads Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Both the Red Crescent and the ICRC say food shortages continue inside, despite the deliveries.

“The food is to be eaten immediately and it is hardly enough for the detainees and guards,” Iriqsousi said by telephone from Damascus. “There is no doubt that the situation in the prison is bad. It is in the Middle East, not in Switzerland … The situation was bad before the crisis, so how can it be with the siege.”

Iriqsousi said the agency also has occasionally helped bring out released prisoners from the facility, but added they had no access to the prisoners themselves.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the battle for Aleppo prison must stop.

“The human conditions in the prison are catastrophic,” he said.

“We hope that the operation that aimed to free the detainees does not end up killing them.”