Airstrikes escalate despite cease-fire
The U.N. envoy for Syria said Thursday that a cease-fire in Syria 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, 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 U.N. says the capital has suffered from a water shortage affecting 5.5 million consumers since December 22.
De Mistura, on Thursday, 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 airstrike 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-Qaida-linked militants.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported four children among the dead.
The raid followed a day of strikes on two opposition pockets outside the capital, Damascus.
Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria speaks during a news conference Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland.