Turkey warns Syria talks at risk over truce violations

Government forces backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah group are fighting to recapture the area, which is the main source of water to the capital.

By: AFP | Beirut | Published: January 5, 2017 12:21 am

Turkey warned on Wednesday that a new round of Syria peace talks was at risk, accusing President Bashar al-Assad’s government of violating a fragile truce it brokered with Russia last week. The nationwide ceasefire has brought quiet to large parts of Syria, but has been threatened by ongoing fighting in the Wadi Barada region near the capital Damascus.

Government forces backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group are fighting to recapture the area, which is the main source of water to the capital.

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Supply has been cut since December 22, with the regime and rebels trading accusations over responsibility.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged the regime and its backers to end their “violations” of the truce, warning they were jeopardising the planned talks in Kazakh capital Astana this month.

“If we do not stop the increasing violations, the Astana process could fail. After the ceasefire, we see violations,” Cavusoglu told the state-run Anadolu news agency in an interview.

“When we look at who commits these violations, it is Hezbollah, in particular Shiite groups and the regime,” he added.

He urged Russia and Iran, which both back Assad and are also helping prepare the Astana talks, to pressure Damascus and Hezbollah to stop the fighting.

Despite the call, fighting continued on the ground in Wadi Barada today, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

It reported ongoing clashes as well as government air strikes and artillery fire in the area, but had no immediate details on casualties.

Wadi Barada has been under government siege since 2015, but government forces upped pressure on the region several weeks ago as they tried to secure a “reconciliation deal” with rebels there.

The regime has reached a series of such deals with opposition forces around Damascus in recent months, offering rebels safe passage to other parts of the country in return for surrender.

The government accuses rebels in the area of deliberately targeting water infrastructure, causing leaking fuel to poison the supply to the capital, and then cutting the flow altogether.

Rebels say the infrastructure was damaged in government strikes and deny responsibility for the damage that has left four million people without water since December 22.

On Tuesday, the government brought reinforcements to the area, the Observatory said.

But opposition officials and Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman also reported ongoing talks on a deal to end the fighting and repair the water infrastructure.

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