Hundreds flee fighting near Syria’s capital, despite truce

While the ceasefire has basically been upheld in most of the country, Damascus has recently seen heavy fighting and loss of its water supply. 

Hundreds of civilians fled a mountainous region outside Damascus, Syria’s capital, on Sunday, where government forces were battling several insurgent groups, including an al-Qaeda-linked outfit excluded from a recent nationwide ceasefire.

The Syrian military said some 1,300 people have fled the Barada Valley region since Saturday. The region has been the target of days of airstrikes and shelling notwithstanding the truce, which was brokered by Russia and Turkey and appears to be holding in other parts of the country, despite some reports of fighting.

The fighting in the Barada Valley has damaged a water plant, cutting the water supply to large segments of Damascus. Asharq al-Awsat reported Sunday that at least four million people in the city have been without safe drinking water for more than a week after springs outside the Syrian capital were deliberately targeted, presumably by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The government says rebels spoiled the water source with diesel fuel, forcing it to cut supplies to the capital.

Water supplies from the Wadi Barada and Ain al-Fija springs, which serve 70 percent of Damascus and its surroundings, have been cut.

The area is controlled by the Fatah al-Sham Front, formerly known as the Nusra Front.

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The Barada Valley Media Center said Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists were firing on villages and towns in the water-rich region as Russian and government aircraft carried out raids for the 10th consecutive day Saturday. The Lebanese terror group has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to bolster Assad’s forces.

The unstable truce went into effect early Friday; the government and the opposition are expected to meet for talks in Kazakhstan later this month. Russia, a key military ally of Assad, and Turkey, a leading sponsor of the rebels, are acting as guarantors of the agreement, which excludes the al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front and the Islamic State (ISIS) group.

On Saturday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted a resolution supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the nearly-six-year conflict in Syria and to jump-start peace negotiations.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and the Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, meanwhile reported government airstrikes on rebel-held villages near the northern city of Aleppo, which was recently returned to full government control.

State news agency SANA said two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the coastal city of Tartus, killing two security officers who had stopped them shortly after midnight as residents were celebrating New Year’s Day.

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A news website close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said that Gen. Gholam Ali Gholizadeh, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, was killed fighting in Syria. It did not provide further details. Iran is closely allied with Assad.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff