Daily air strikes bombard key valley amid cease-fire
BEIRUT — The U.N. 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, 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 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 United Nations says the capital has suffered from a water shortage affecting 5.5 million consumers since December 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 air strikes 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 ceasefire, which came into effect Dec. 30, should widen humanitarian access to besieged areas, but that “unfortunately, that is not the case.”
The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, a search and rescue group also known as the White Helmets, said 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 oppositionheld countryside west of the once-contested city of Aleppo.
It was not clear who was behind the raid and others like it in the Aleppo countryside. Syrian and Russian aircraft regularly bombed the province before the cease-fire went into effect. The U.S. is believed to be behind a series of strikes in the neighboring Idlib province that activists say have killed several al Qaeda-linked militants.
A boy runs after an air strike by government forces, in Binnish, Lebanon. Activists say the bombings have killed several al Qaeda militants, but opposition activists say victims have included many civilians.