Opposition Says Hizbullah Prevented Russians from Entering Wadi Barada, Turkey Says Party behind Truce Violations

The Syrian opposition accused Hizbullah on Wednesday of preventing Russian officials from entering the Wadi Barada area near Damascus to assess water infrastructure damaged by clashes.

“A checkpoint belonging to the Hizbullah militia prevented the Russian officers from entering,” Ahmed Ramadan of the National Coalition opposition body said in a message to journalists.

The area is the main source of water to the capital.

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.

Opposition officials and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman reported ongoing talks on a deal to end the fighting and repair the water infrastructure.

“Local officials want… Russian teams to enter to fix the infrastructure” in exchange for a halt to the fighting, Abdel Rahman told AFP.

“But the regime wants control of the spring and the pumps to prevent any blackmail or threats in the future,” he added.

“This is their condition for halting military operations.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday urged the regime and its backers to end their “violations” of the truce, warning they were jeopardizing the planned peace 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 Hizbullah, 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 Hizbullah to stop the fighting.

Despite the call, fighting continued on the ground in Wadi Barada on Wednesday, 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.