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