PHOTO: Damage in Wadi Barada from pro-Assad attacks, 25 December 2016
UPDATE 1850 GMT: Rebels claimed that they have inflicted more casualties on pro-Assad forces attacking in the East Ghouta area, northeast of Damascus.
Despite the nominal ceasefire, the pro-Assad offensive has been trying to take more opposition territory; however, it has been thwarted repeatedly in the past week near Madani.
A rebel coalition of Jaysh al-Islam, Faylaq al-Rahman, and Ahrar al-Sham said they had destroyed tanks and regain the village of Hazerma, briefly held by regime forces.
UPDATE 1630 GMT: The jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham have acknowledged that they carried out attacks on two regime checkpoints in eastern Hama Province, on the road between Salamiyah and Homs.
JFS, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, claimed that it took control of the checkpoints, blowing one up before withdrawing. The jihadists said they killed “dozens” of regime troops and seized weapons and ammunition.
Syrian State news agency SANA asserted that the attacks were repelled as the army bombarded the JFS fighters, “inflicting heavy losses upon them in personnel and equipment”.
UPDATE 1430 GMT: President Assad has said that his future is not up for discussion at political talks scheduled for Kazakhstan later this month.
Turkey and Russia are brokering the arrangements for the discussions, hoping to bring together the regime and the Syrian opposition.
As a delegation of French MPs visited Damascus, http://en.eldorar.com/node/4360” target=”_blank”>Assad told French media on Monday:
My position is related to the Constitution, and the Constitution is very clear about the mechanism of the president’s arrival to power or his departure.
Therefore if they want to discuss this point, they should discuss the Constitution, which is not owned by the government or the president or the opposition.
The opposition have insisted that Assad must step aside in any political resolution. A pro-opposition source reacted to the President’s statement, “After ceasefire violations [by pro-Assad forces], this is the final nail in the coffin [for the political process].”
Turkey has also set this condition, although Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus indicated last week that Ankara might have been wrong to insist on the pursuit of the President’s removal.
Russia has been cautious in its stance on the long-term position of Assad, but Iran has set a “red line” against demands for his departure.
Assad also indicated that regime and Hezbollah forces will continue to violate the ceasefire with the offensive on Wadi Barada near Damascus, saying “terrorists” had occupying the main source of water for Damascus.
Rebel factions scoffed at Assad’s declaration that the most he could offer fighters was “amnesty”.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Continuing to break a national ceasefire, pro-Assad forces have renewed their four-week offensive to overrun Wadi Barada, northwest of Damascus.
Regime and Hezbollah forces had limited their attacks on Saturdayamid discussions for access by Russian technicians to the water pumping facilities damaged by the pro-Assad assault. Wadi Barada’s al-Fija springs provide more than 60% of Damsascus’s water.
But on Sunday the forces resumed bombing, shelling, and ground assaults to overrun the area of 10 villages and betweeen 50,000 and 100,000 people.
Two weeks into the offensive, a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey went into effect. However, the Assad regime and its supporters maintained the attacks on the pretext that the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham were excluded from the truce and were present in the area.
The opposition, rebels, and local sources say that JFS, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, left Wadi Barada as an organized force in late 2015 and that no more than 30 members are in the villages.
Turkey has warned that the offensive will derail plans for political talks between the Assad regime and the opposition later this month in Kazakhstan.
Russia has maintained silence while President Assad’s other essential ally, Iran, has backed up the line that the offensive is justified. Local sources also say an Iranian headquarters near Wadi Barada is involved in operations.
Claimed footage of the attacks:
— وادي بردى (@w_barada) January 8, 2017
Damage at the pumping facilities for the al-Fija springs: