Wa­ter war hits Da­m­as­cus

MIL­LIONS THIRSTY: SYR­IAN ARMY AIMS TO RE­TAKE AREA WHERE REBELS CUT SUP­PLY LINES

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - WORLD -

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.

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