Cam­paign for key Syr­ian wa­ter source casts doubt over As­tana peace talks

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - PHILIP ISSA JAMEY KEATEN

The UN en­voy for Syria said Thurs­day that a cease­fire was “largely hold­ing with some ex­cep­tions,” as op­po­si­tion ac­tivists re­ported a mount­ing num­ber of govern­ment air strikes, in­clud­ing a raid in the north­ern Aleppo prov­ince that killed at least six civil­ians.

Speak­ing to re­porters in Geneva, Switzer­land, Staffan de Mis­tura said he was con­cerned that fight­ing north­west of Da­m­as­cus that has cut off the cap­i­tal’s clean-wa­ter sup­ply would fur­ther es­ca­late and de­rail pro­posed ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the govern­ment and the op­po­si­tion in As­tana, Kaza­khstan, later this month.

The talks are spon­sored by Rus­sia and Turkey, which sup- port op­pos­ing sides of the Syr­ian civil war. But the sta­tus of the meet­ing, planned for Jan. 23, is not clear.

Rebels say the govern­ment’s con­tin­ued cam­paign for the Barada Val­ley, the cap­i­tal’s main source of wa­ter, has cast the talks in doubt.

The UN says the cap­i­tal has suf­fered from a wa­ter short­age af­fect­ing 5.5 mil­lion con­sumers since Dec. 22, 2016.

The leader of one of Syria’s largest rebel fac­tions, the ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive Ahrar al-Sham, said in re­marks aired Thurs­day that the vi­o­lence in the val­ley and daily air strikes on rebel-held ar­eas “are signs of a col­laps­ing truce.”

Mr. de Mis­tura said five vil­lages in the Wadi Barada area have reached an “ar­range­ment” with the govern­ment, but two vil­lag- es, in­clud­ing one which holds the source of wa­ter, al-Fi­jeh, have not.

“There is a dan­ger, a sub­stan­tial dan­ger, im­mi­nent dan­ger, that this may de­velop into a fur­ther mil­i­tary es­ca­la­tion,” fur­ther im­per­illing the wa­ter sup­ply, he said.

He also said the cease­fire, which came into ef­fect Dec. 30, 2016, should widen hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess to be­sieged ar­eas, but “un­for­tu­nately, that is not the case.”

The op­po­si­tion-run Syr­ian Civil De­fence­said its work­ers pulled the bod­ies of three chil­dren and three adults from the rub­ble of an air strike on the vil­lage of Babka in the op­po­si­tion-held coun­try­side west of the once-con­tested city of Aleppo.


A Syr­ian boy is seen af­ter a re­ported air strike by govern­ment forces on the out­skirts of Idlib on Thurs­day.

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