Fighting imperils peace talks and water supply, envoy says
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.