Monday 26 August 2019

Barrel bombs kill 14 civilians in rebel areas near Damascus

Youths carry weapons along a road in al-Rai town, north of Aleppo in Syria. Photo: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi
Youths carry weapons along a road in al-Rai town, north of Aleppo in Syria. Photo: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

Sara Elizabeth Williams

Syrian government forces have reportedly killed at least 14 civilians in a series of barrel bomb attacks on rebel-held areas outside Damascus.

The regime has launched an offensive on Wadi Barada, a town north-west of the capital. According to pro-government news sources, air strikes began on Saturday after militants from the Fateh al-Sham group, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, refused to leave the area unarmed.

Pro-revolution activists said government forces unleashed a barrage of ordnance, including explosive barrels dropped from helicopters and at least 30 large missiles.

In Wadi Barada, activists said around 100,000 people were without running water or electricity, and were under attack from all directions. The offensive follows an escalating crisis over water supplies feeding into Damascus from an area that includes Wadi Barada.

On Friday, authorities cut water supplies into various Damascus neighbourhoods after accusing rebels of deliberately poisoning water resources.

According to the state news agency, rebel groups attacked springs at Wadi Barada and Ain al-Fijeh, about 15km north-west of Damascus. State media also reported that militants blew up the Barada water pipeline in the suburb of Kafr al-Zayt, which had only just been fixed after a similar attack.

A statement by the Damascus water authority said it had halted supplies after "terrorist attacks on all water resources feeding into Damascus and its surroundings".

An estimated 1.5 million people live inside Damascus city, with another 3.5 million in its suburbs. The war over water underscores the importance of maintaining control of vital resources in a country crippled by nearly six years of civil war.

The escalation has affected civilians on both sides.

Yesterday, parts of Damascus were still without water, and civilians inside Wadi Barada described an increasingly harrowing assault on a town already worn down by years of war and shortages.

The Wadi Barada valley has been under siege since 2014 with food, water and electricity all in short supply.

Observers allege that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was employing similar tactics in Wadi Barada as he did in Aleppo. Regime forces were shelling Wadi Barada and Ain al-Fijeh "to put pressure on Islamist rebel factions and Fateh al-Sham Front to accept a reconciliation deal", warned the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In Aleppo, mass graves were found yesterday in the city's formerly rebel-held eastern quarters. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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