UN warns Damascus water crisis may be 'war crime'

Indo Asian News Service

United Nations, Jan 6 (IANS) The UN has warned that the water crisis afflicting the Syrian capital may constitute a war crime. Millions of people have been deprived of running water after a reserve located in rebel-held Wadi Barada was cut off.

"In Damascus itself, 5.5 million people have had their water supplies cut or minimised," the UN's humanitarian adviser to Syria, Jan Egeland, told reporters in Geneva the RT online reported.

In December, the running water supply for Damascus was shut off, having reportedly been contaminated with diesel fuel. This deprived millions of people of drinking water, and came amid fighting in the rebel-held area where the reservoir is located.

Rebels have blamed the government forces, saying that the crisis hit when the reserve was allegedly shelled. Syrian officials, however, say the rebels deliberately poisoned the water and then damaged the infrastructure.

Egeland stressed that "to sabotage and deny water is of course a war crime," as such actions mainly impact civilians.

He went on to say there was no sign of disease in the city, but did warn that poisoning was a real danger.

Rebels have repeatedly threatened to target the water reservoir in Wadi Barada. They have recently threatened to cut the supply again - this time in a video that showed the tunnel running underneath Damascus, where they said they would lay explosive charges and physically deprive the population of water.

A ceasefire deal between government and rebel forces came into force just before New Year's celebrations. The Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front militants did not participate. The deal was brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey, with Moscow and Ankara as guarantors of the truce.

However, the rebels broke the truce shortly after its approval by UN Security Council members on January 2. They blamed the Bashar al-Assad government for alleged violations in the Wadi Barada valley.

The truce aims to bring about peace talks later this month in Kazakhstan, with the rebels warning that any agreement would be immediately scrapped if the government does not pull out of the area north of the capital.