Water war hits Damascus
MILLIONS THIRSTY: SYRIAN ARMY AIMS TO RETAKE AREA WHERE REBELS CUT SUPPLY LINES
President Assad reiterates peace talks won’t involve him stepping down.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to retake an area that supplies Damascus with water and rejected any negotiations on his departure at upcoming talks in Kazakhstan.
Millions of people have been without water for weeks after fighting damaged key infrastructure in the Wadi Barada region outside Damascus, the main water source for the capital.
The government says former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, known previously as Al-Nusra Front, is present in Wadi Barada and blames rebels there for cutting water to Damascus since December 22.
“The role of the Syrian Army is to liberate that area in order to prevent those terrorists from using that water in order to suffocate the capital,” Assad told French media in an interview aired on Monday.
Assad’s forces have been battling rebels in Wadi Barada for weeks and the fighting has continued despite the start on December 30 of a nationwide ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey.
Assad said the ceasefire was being “breached on a daily basis” and mainly around Damascus “because the terrorists occupy the main source of water” in Wadi Barada. He said “more than 5 million civilians have been deprived of water for the last three weeks” as a result of the fighting.
The United Nations says 5.5 million people in and around Damascus are without water.
Assad said that Fateh al-Sham is “occupying” the Wadi Barada region, 15km northwest of the capital.
But rebels deny the jihadists are in the area and say the water supply was severed after government strikes hit pumping facilities.
Assad also insisted that the ceasefire does not include Fateh al-Sham or its formidable rival, the Islamic State (IS).
Regime forces and fighters from Lebanon’s Shi’ite movement Hezbollah on Monday clashed with rebels and some Fateh Al-Sham jihadists in the Wadi Barada area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
IS had blown up a natural gas plant that supplied one-third of Syria’s electricity.
Assad, meanwhile, rejected any negotiations towards his departure from power at talks set to be held in late January in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
“My position is related to the constitution and the constitution is very clear,” he said.