Sunday 15 December 2019

Syrian ceasefire holding but battle with jihadis rages on

Boys carry bread near damaged buildings in al-Rai town, north of Aleppo. Photo: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi
Boys carry bread near damaged buildings in al-Rai town, north of Aleppo. Photo: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

Bassem Mroue Beirut

Hundreds of civilians fled a mountainous region outside the Syrian capital Damascus yesterday, where government forces were battling several insurgent groups, including an al-Qa'ida-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 despite 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 truce went into effect early on Friday, and the government and the opposition are expected to meet for talks in Kazakhstan later this month. Russia, a key military ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, a leading sponsor of the rebels, are acting as guarantors of the agreement, which excludes the al-Qa'ida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front and the Isil group.

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

The military said those fleeing Barada Valley were relocated to safer areas and their names were registered by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the opposition's Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there were buses in the region ready to evacuate civilians but could not confirm how many people had left.

He said the Barada Valley region is not part of the ceasefire because of the presence of Fatah al-Sham Front, formerly known as the Nusra Front.

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

The Barada Valley is the primary source of water for the capital and its surrounding region. The government assault has coincided with a severe water shortage in Damascus since December 22. Images from the media centre indicate its Ain al-Fijeh spring and water processing facility have been destroyed in airstrikes.

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

Irish Independent

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