Violence ravages Wadi Barada after claims of 'temporary ceasefire'
At least nine people were killed overnight Friday - including seven Syrian soldiers - following ongoing fighting in a valley near Damascus, which supplies the majority of the Syrian capital's mains water.
Fighting continued in Wadi Barada early Saturday despite a nationwide truce, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, and a local ceasefire being in place, according to pro-regime media.
The monitor said that in addition to the nine killed overnight on Friday and a further 20 people were wounded, some in serious condition.
Mains water to Damascus from the Ain al-Fijah source in Wadi Barada - that supplies as much as 70 percent of the capital's water - has been cut since 22 December amid mutual accusations by regime and rebel groups over who is responsible.
On Friday evening, the Hizballah-affiliated al-Manar TV station said that a temporary ceasefire had been agreed in Wadi Barada. However, this was disputed by rebel officials in comments to Reuters before further violence was reported.
Previously reports have emerged that the Syrian regime has offered a settlement deal to rebels in Wadi Barada to surrender the area in return for safe-passage to the rebel-held north-western Idlib province.
Similar deals have taken place both in other rural areas near Damascus and elsewhere in Syria in recent months.
Wadi Barada lies between Damascus and the Lebanese Shia paramilitary group's strongholds across the border in Lebanon's Bekaa valley.
Hizbollah personnel are heavily involved in pro-regime assaults on Wadi Barada, with reports earlier this week that some of its fighters had prevented Russian officials from entering the area to assess the situation in the war-torn valley.
In comment to The New Arab on Friday morning both the UN and the International Red Cross said that they were seeking access to Wadi Barada but due to ongoing clashes they were unable to enter the area.
The UN said this week that 5.5 million people in Damascus had been affected by water shortages describing attacks on water facilities as tantamount to "war crimes" but declining to comment on who was responsible for damaging infrastructures in Wadi Barada.
Concern is also growing for civilians besieged in Wadi Barada, with estimates suggesting as many as 100,000 people could be caught in the crossfire in the contested area.