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Government attacks rebel-held river, Damascus goes thirsty


Beirut, Jan 3: Residents of Damascus are scrambling for clean water after the government attacked rebels holding the city's main source in a nearby valley, producing an outage that has stretched on for nearly two weeks.

The cut-off is a major challenge to the government's effort throughout the nearly 6-year-old civil war to keep the capital as insulated as possible from the effects of the conflict tearing apart much of the country. The battle for resources has always been an undercurrent to the war. The government, in particular, has advertised its efforts to keep electricity and water flowing to areas under its control, while it blocks the UN and other relief agencies from supplying opposition zones. But rarely has that struggle been so starkly felt inside the capital.

Government attacks rebel-held river, Damascus goes thirsty

"I have stopped cleaning the house, washing dishes or clothes. We no longer take showers," said Mona Maqssoud, a 50-year-old resident of Damascus. She said residents have relied on water tankers that come by occasionally and give 20 liters (5 gallons) of water to each house, but that hasn't been enough. "We begged the drivers (to return) to our neighborhood, but they refused." The opposition has long controlled Wadi Barada, the valley northwest of Damascus through which the river of the same name flows to the capital.

The government and the opposition had previously had an understanding to keep water services running. But that modus vivendi ended when forces of President Bashar Assad and his allies, the Lebanon Hezbollah guerrilla force, attacked the valley, home to some 100,000 people. The cut-off, since December 22, is the longest Damascus has seen, say residents, who are accustomed to intermittent outages. The Barada River and its source, the Ain al-Fijeh spring, supply 70 per cent of the water for Damascus and its environs.

An activist-run media collective in the Barada Valley said government and Russian aircraft had bombed the Ain el-Fijeh water processing facility, puncturing its fuel depots and contaminating the water stream. The collective said the plant's electrical control systems had been destroyed as well. Images showed the roof of the facility collapsed into its main water basin. An activist with the group, Abu Mohammed al-Bardawi, said it would take at least two months to get the facilities working again.

Damascus officials said they shut off the water after opposition forces poured gasoline into the river. The government denied attacking the water processing facility, saying it would not set out to harm its own population. Still, it would not be the first time it strikes its own facilities: government strikes hit pumping stations in the northern city of Aleppo in April, September, and November. Damascus, the seat of Assad's power, has been spared from the widespread destruction in other parts of the country, though rebels on the outskirts occasionally fire mortar rounds into the city.


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