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As was bound to happen, Al-Qaeda in Syria is pulling out the stops to try to disrupt the Russian-Turkish sponsored ceasefire.
Al-Qaeda is in part doing it by attacking other Jihadi groups which have signed up to the ceasefire. The Iranian news agency Fars reports that there has been fierce infighting between Jihadi groups in Idlib, where Al-Qaeda is in control, whilst Al-Qaeda is continuing to block the evacuation of wounded Shia fighters and civilians from two Shia villages, whose evacuation was agreed as part of the package negotiated by the Russians, the Iranians and the Turks, which led to the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters and civilians from east Aleppo.
The main flashpoint however is the Wadi Barada valley, which provides Damascus with drinking water. Al-Qaeda has taken control there, ousting other Jihadi groups who have been in control of the valley since 2012. Having gained control of the valley, Al-Qaeda is being accused by the Syrian government of poisoning the drinking water supplied to Damascus, forcing the Syrian government to restrict supplies of fresh water to the people of Damascus.
The Moon of Alabama has provided a detailed account of the incident, pointing out the complete indifference of Western governments and of the Western media to the plight of the people of Damascus, which contrasts with the relentless attention given to the plight of the civilians in eastern Aleppo during the siege there.
The point about the incident at the Wadi Barada valley is that it is obliging the Syrian army, which has surrounded the valley, to press home its offensive there in order to regain control of the valley so as to restore the supplies of drinking water to Damascus. Al-Qaeda is using this to claim that the Syrian government is breaking the ceasefire, and has persuaded other Jihadi groups to issue a statement saying they have halted their preparations for the pending peace conference in Astana on that basis.
The BBC has given an account of the incident, which refers to the Jihadi statement, but which otherwise tends to accept Jihadi claims that Al-Qaeda is not in control of the valley, and that the water supply to Damascus is being disrupted not because the water is being poisoned but because of Syrian army shelling.
There is in fact no reason to doubt the Syrian government’s account of the incident. As the Moon of Alabama has pointed out, social media has been full of boasts by Jihadi supporters admitting to what they have done.
Latest reports from the area say that the Syrian army has already recaptured one of the springs, and given its importance it is a certainty the whole valley will once again be under Syrian government control before long. It is most unlikely this incident will seriously delay preparations for the peace conference in Astana. It is striking that the Turkish government has refused to weigh in strongly on the side of the Jihadis during this incident.
What the incident once again shows is the utterly implacable opposition the Syrian government has to face from Al-Qaeda in Syria, and the lengths to which Al-Qaeda is prepared to go. Unfortunately it also shows the extent to which Western governments and the Western media continue by their silence to collude in Syria with Al-Qaeda’s actions.