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The New Arab

US-backed operations paused for repairs at 'endangered' Syria dam

There are contradicting claims regarding the integrity of the dam [AFP]

Date of publication: 28 March, 2017

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Fighting between a US-backed Syrian militia and Islamic State militants near an endangered dam in north-eastern Syria continued, sparking Russian criticism.
UPDATE (28 March, 4GMT): According to a Reuters report, fighting was paused again on Tuesday to allow Syrian engineers to open spillways and ease pressure on the dam.

The engineers arrived from the dam's northern entrance which the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance captured last week. The dam's southern reaches remain in the hands of the Islamic State.

Following a brief pause for safety checks on the structure, fighting had resumed between a US-backed Syrian militia and Islamic State militants near an endangered dam in north-eastern Syria, sparking Russian criticism.


Clashes took place in the vicinity of the dam in Tabqa, west of IS-stronghold of Raqqa between the extremists and the Syrian Democratic Forces, as the SDF brought in more reinforcements from the direction of the southern bank of the nearby Al-Assad Lake, sources on the ground told The New Arab.

No positions near the dam changed hands by Tuesday morning, however, the sources said, as IS militants counter-attacked SDF positions.

Contradicting claims by IS corroborated by Syrian officials and engineers, the US-led coalition and the forces it backs in the area have denied the dam is facing an 'imminent' risk of collapse, saying its structure has not been damaged.

Syrian engineers, however, say damage to its control station from the fighting heightens the risk of critical failure.

In a statement obtained by The New Arab, Abdul-Jawad al-Sakran, a Syrian engineer formerly in charge of the dam, confirmed the facility's control station was damaged and out of service, warning of dire consequences if the situation is not quickly rectified.

The inability to monitor data at the dam's pumps and valves, and the water level posed a risk to its operations apart from the structural integrity of the facility

Operational risk

The statement issued on Monday night by Sakran and former dam technicians called on all sides to keep military operations away from the dam and allow repairs to be conducted.

"The operations room at the dam has been burned down, contrary to what the SDF has said. It is completely unoperational," the statement said.

The inability to monitor data at the dam's pumps and valves, and the water level, the statement continued, posed a risk to its operations apart from the structural integrity of the facility.

"The failure of the station could lead to its submersion if the pumps stop working and the water level in Tabqa Lake rises...which could lead to water overflowing from the top of the dam and even lead to its collapse," the statement explained.  

The statement called on the warring parties to suspend operations near the dam, saying the pause announced by the SDF was not enough for proper examinations.

The engineers also called on the Turkish government to store water at its dams until the problem is resolved, and asked for generators to be supplied and safe corridors for technicians to enter the facility to be provided.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff on Tuesday accused the coalition of trying to "completely destroy critical infrastructure in Syria

Russian warning

A senior Russian general has since criticised the US-led coalition fighting IS militants for allegedly targeting infrastructure - including the key Tabqa dam - in territory held by the extremist group in Syria.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff on Tuesday accused the coalition of trying to "completely destroy critical infrastructure in Syria and complicate post-war reconstruction as much as possible."

Rudskoi further claimed that coalition jets had destroyed four bridges over the Euphrates River in Syria and hit the Tabqa dam to the west of the extremists' de facto capital of Raqqa.

Rudskoi said that the collapse of the dam would case an "ecological catastrophe" and lead to "numerous" civilian deaths.

The US-led coalition says it's taking every precaution and that the dam hasn't been structurally damaged.

IS had issued warnings through its propaganda agency Amaq that the dam "is threatened with collapse at any moment because of American strikes and a large rise in water levels".

The SDF said it paused operations for four hours on Monday to allow engineers to inspect the dam. The SDF later said engineers had entered the dam and found no damage or "malfunction".

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights denied the SDF's statement, according to news agencies.

It said technicians inside IS-held Tabqa did not reach the dam during the ceasefire to reactivate its main power controls.

The dam, which stretches for about four kilometres across the Euphrates, was captured by IS at the height of the armed group's expansion in Syria and Iraq in 2014.

(with input from agencies)

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