BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria’s army and its allies advanced near Damascus on Friday, according to an organisation that monitors the conflict, and the region’s governor said rebels had let engineers enter a damaged pumping station that supplies most of the capital’s water.
The Wadi Barada area has become the most intense battlefront in the Syrian civil war, and the disruption to water supplies has caused severe shortages in Damascus since the beginning of the year.
The army and the Lebanese Shi‘ite Muslim militia Hezbollah gained complete control of the town of Baseimah, taking them close to Ain al-Fija where the water springs are located, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The governor of Damascus Countryside Province said in comments broadcast on television that engineers had entered Ain al-Fija to fix the damage to the pumping station.
He said it was part of a wider agreement for rebels to stop fighting in Wadi Barada. This would include the departure of some of them for other insurgent-held areas in the country and a settlement with others who would remain there.
Reuters could not immediately reach rebels in Wadi Barada for comment on the governor’s statement.
The area has become the main focus of fighting between the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi‘ite militias, and the rebels seeking to oust him, since the government retook full control of the city of Aleppo last month.
It comes despite a two-week-old ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey, which is one of the main supporters of many rebel groups. Since the truce, nearly 180 civilians have died in clashes and bombardment, the British-based Observatory said.
Reporting by Angus McDowall in Beirut and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Editing by Mark Trevelyan