Fight­ing im­per­ils peace talks and wa­ter sup­ply, en­voy says

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - WORLD -

GENEVA >> The U.N. en­voy for Syria said Thurs­day that a cease-fire was “largely hold­ing with some ex­cep­tions,” as op­po­si­tion ac­tivists re­ported a mount­ing num­ber of gov­ern­ment airstrikes, in­clud­ing a raid in the north­ern Aleppo prov­ince that killed at least six civil­ians.

Speak­ing to re­porters in Geneva, 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, this month. The talks are spon­sored by Rus­sia and Turkey, which sup­port 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 U.N. says the cap­i­tal has suf­fered from a wa­ter short­age af­fect­ing 5.5 mil­lion con­sumers since Dec. 22.

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 airstrikes on rebel-held ar­eas “are signs of a col­laps­ing truce.” De Mis­tura said five vil­lages in the Wadi Barada area have reached an “ar­range­ment” with the gov­ern­ment, but two vil­lages, 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 im­per­il­ing the wa­ter sup­ply, he said.

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

It is not clear how the on­go­ing vi­o­lence might af­fect the talks ex­pected Jan. 23 in As­tana. Lit­tle is clear about what is on the agenda or who will at­tend.

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