First Published: 2017-01-11

Syria regime says deal reached to enter Wadi Barada
Opposition sources deny any deal reached for army to enter rebel-held region and restore water supply to Damascus, saying its announcement by regime is 'psychological warfare'.
Middle East Online

Rebel fighters and their families prepare to leave town of Deir Kanun in Wadi Barada

DAMASCUS - Syria's government has reached a deal for the army to enter a rebel-held area near Damascus and restore the capital's water supply, the provincial governor said Wednesday.

Opposition sources denied there was any such deal, but a source inside the Wadi Barada region reported several hundred civilians were leaving under an agreement.

State news agency SANA also reported people were leaving the region, among them several dozen fighters.

The reported deal comes after weeks of fighting in the region, 15 kilometres (10 miles) northwest of Damascus, which has threatened a fragile truce in place since December 30.

The fighting has damaged water infrastructure and left some 5.5 million people in the capital and its suburbs facing water shortages, according to the UN.

Damascus provincial governor Alaa Ibrahim told SANA there was now a deal to allow the government to retake control of the region.

"The agreement that was reached in principle requires the militants to give up their heavy weapons and for non-local militants to leave the area of Wadi Barada," he said.

"(Then) the Syrian Arab Army will enter the area to clear it of mines and bombs to prepare for the entry of maintenance teams... to fix the damage caused to the water pumps and pipes by the terrorists' attacks."

But Ahmed Ramadan, an official with the opposition National Coalition, denied any such deal had been reached.

"This information is untrue and is a part of the (regime and its allies') psychological warfare," he told AFP.

- Civilians leave Wadi Barada -

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, also said the government had not reached a comprehensive deal with rebels.

But it reported that residents wishing to leave were being offered safe passage on an individual basis.

And a source on the ground in Wadi Barada said Wednesday that some 600 civilians had left, passing through a makeshift tent where government officials were checking documents.

SANA reported that some 500 people had left the area, among them some 60 rebels.

Syria's government accuses rebels in Wadi Barada, including former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, of deliberately cutting water supplies to the capital.

But the rebels say regime strikes damaged pumping facilities and deny that Fateh al-Sham, previously known as Al-Nusra Front, has forces in the area.

The government has concluded dozens of so-called "reconciliation deals" with rebel-held areas in Syria in recent months, particularly around the capital.

The deals usually offer civilians and rebels safe passage to opposition-held territory elsewhere in exchange for surrendering the area to the army.

The opposition says it is forced into such deals by government sieges and assault, and terms them a "starve or surrender" tactic.

- January 23 peace talks -

Fighting has continued in Wadi Barada despite the start of a truce brokered by regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey in late December.

The ceasefire is intended to pave the way for new peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, which Russia confirmed Wednesday were scheduled for January 23.

"At this time there is no indication that the meeting will be postponed. The date of January 23 is set," a source in the foreign ministry said.

He added that work was underway to compile a list of participants.

A Russian diplomatic source said Wednesday the talks would be held between the regime and rebels only, with the political opposition excluded for the first time.

Regime ally Iran is also helping to organise the talks, which are the latest bid to find a political solution to the nearly six-year-old civil war that has killed more than 310,000 people.

But Turkey and the rebels have warned the ongoing fighting in Wadi Barada could jeopardise the talks in Astana.

And while the truce has brought quiet to large parts of Syria, sporadic violence has continued elsewhere.

On Wednesday, the Observatory reported government air strikes in several parts of the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus that killed one person and wounded nine.

And overnight it said air strikes hit rebel-held parts of Aleppo and Idlib province in the north and northwest of the country, killing at least three rebels.

 

Arab leaders reject 'foreign interference' in their affairs

UN chief in Baghdad to review aid efforts

Lebanese PM Hariri visits Saudi Arabia

Turkey says military operation in northern Syria over

Palestinian pints divide Israeli pub

Rush hour on Mosul's 'displacement highway'

Palestinians commemorate ‘Land Day’

Qatar Airways to offer free laptops on US flights

American-Israeli teen arrested for US bomb threats 'has tumour'

Netanyahu vows to move ahead on new settlement plan

Tillerson says Assad’s fate up to Syrian people

Number of Syrian refugees tops five million says UN

Deal struck in Israeli row over public broadcaster

Palestinian NGOs urge Hamas to reopen border

Austria issues Turkey travel warning

US Secretary of State Tillerson in Ankara for talks

Jailed leader of pro-Kurd party to start hunger strike in Turkey

IS truck bomb kills at least 14 at Baghdad checkpoint

Iran says Arabs should focus on Zionist, not Iranian, meddling

Israel cuts $2-million contribution to UN

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian woman armed with scissors

Bahrain sentences two to death for police bombing

Boat from Libya capsizes in Med, 146 migrants feared missing

Saudi police kill 2 gunmen during raid in Shiite-majority town

Over 60,000 S.Sudanese flee to Sudan in last three months

Bus bombing hits Syria's Homs, five dead

CAF chief Ahmad backs Morocco 2026 World Cup bid

US arrests Turkish banker for helping Iran violate sanctions

Turkey voices opposition to Kurdish flag in Kirkuk

Engineers to carry out urgent maintenance on IS-held Syria dam

Palestinian president meets Trump envoy at Arab summit

4 besieged Syria towns to be evacuated under deal

Arab leaders meet in Sweimeh on conflicts, 'terror'

No unanimity on Syria ahead of Arab Summit

UN says over 300 civilians killed since start of west Mosul offensive

Disputed Iraqi province votes to fly Kurdish flag

Germany laments Turkey's 'unacceptable' spying

Syria opposition says no peace deal without US role

Turkey sends delegation to UK over electronics ban

UN chief urges Arab leaders to confront Syria war

Carlos the Jackal sentenced to life for Paris bombing

Arab League set to oppose Trump Israel embassy shift

Tributes flood in for anti-apartheid hero Ahmed Kathrada

US vows to never allow 'Israel-bashing' at UN

Netanyahu ban on MP visits to flashpoint holy site challenged