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.

 

Assad in Russia for talks with Putin

Islamic republic declares end of Islamic State

Revolt in US State Department over child soldier law

Anti-IS coalition strikes drop to lowest number

Morocco bans bitcoin transactions

Rebels say Sanaa airport 'ready to run' after coalition bombing

Greece to amend historic sharia law for Muslim minority

Turkey to ask Germany to extradite top coup suspect

Car bomb in northern Iraq kills at least 24

13 million Syrians need aid despite relative drop in violence

Sudan urged to improve plight of Darfur's displaced people

Brain drain means Syria can’t recover for a generation

Palestinians close communication lines with Americans

German police arrest six Syrians ‘planning terror attack’

Palestinian factions in Cairo for reconciliation talks

Turkish opposition daily web editor sentenced to 3 years in jail

Egypt’s Sisi to meet Lebanon’s Hariri

Israeli police arrest 33 in ultra-Orthodox draft riots

Turkish lira at new low against US dollar

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues

Iraq top court declares Kurd referendum unconstitutional

Libya to investigate 'slave auction' footage

15 women killed in food aid crush in Morocco

Lebanon FM will not attend Arab League Iran summit

Syrian forces liberate Albu Kamal from IS

Israel votes to shut migrant centre, deport Africans

Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey discuss Syria

Libya to investigate ‘slave auction’ footage

Piece by piece, Iran moves towards a ‘new empire’

Netanyahu faces new questioning over corruption case

Syria troops, allies retake most of Albu Kamal from IS

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget

Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris

Egypt opens Gaza border for first time since unity deal

US-Russia rift threatens fragile prospects for Syria peace

'Caliphate' in tatters but IS still a threat