BEIRUT Jan 8 Air strikes resumed on Sunday in a
rebel-held valley near Damascus containing the Syrian capital's
main water supply, a day after insurgents and the government
failed to agree a plan to repair the springs knocked out of
service two weeks ago.
The government and allied fighters from the Lebanese group
Hezbollah launched an offensive two weeks ago to take back Wadi
Barada, a mountainous valley overlooked by pro-government
military positions where springs provided water to four million
people in the capital.
The government says it wants to enter the rugged valley to
permanently secure water supply to the capital. Rebels and local
activists say pro-government forces are using the water issue to
score a political victory weeks after the fall of Aleppo city,
using siege and bombardment to force fighters into agreeing to
Through a series of so-called settlement agreements, sieges
and army offensives, the Syrian government, backed by Russian
air power and Iran-backed militias, has been steadily
suppressing armed opposition around the capital.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes
began on Sunday morning, after a lull since Saturday morning
during which a new round of negotiations over repairs took
A military media unit run by the Syrian government's ally
Hezbollah said on Sunday it was suspending a ceasefire in the
Wadi Barada area because rebels were disrupting negotiations and
had opened fire on repair teams.
The Wadi Barada media office, run by local activists
connected to the negotiating team, said it was untrue that any
repair team had entered the valley, saying engineers had waited
at the area's border while negotiations went on.
The Hezbollah-affiliated media unit also said it was the
Syrian Islamist militia formerly called the Nusra Front which
fired on the teams. The Syrian government has said Nusra Front,
now called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and Islamic State were excluded
from a nationwide ceasefire which came into force 10 days ago.
The Wadi Barada media office denied the Nusra fighters were
present in the valley.
Rebels in Wadi Barada have allowed government engineers to
maintain and operate the valley's pumping station, which
supplies 70 percent of Damascus and its surroundings, since they
took control of the area in 2012.
Fighters have, however, cut water supplies several times in
the past to put pressure on the army not to overrun the area.
The United Nations said the spring was damaged two weeks ago
because "infrastructure was deliberately targeted", without
saying who was responsible, and warned shortages in the capital
could lead to waterborne disease outbreaks.
Rebels and activists say the spring was damaged by
pro-government force bombardment. The government said rebels
polluted the spring with diesel, forcing the state to cut
Ali Haidar, who as national reconciliation minister has been
responsible for negotiating local truce deals which see rebels
given safe passage out of areas which the government then moves
into, told Sham radio station on Saturday the spring would
remain under state control after repairs, "to prevent water
again being cut to the capital".
A U.N. spokesman said this week sabotaging civilian water
supplies constituted a war crime.
Activists in the valley warned on Saturday of deteriorating
humanitarian conditions in the mountainous valley, which they
say has a population of 50,000 of local people and 30,000
internally displaced Syrians.
The United Nations estimates 45,000 people live in the Wadi
Barada area, and thinks at least 7,000 people have been
displaced form the area in recent fighting.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Editing by Stephen