PHOTO: Image from video of regime bombing in late December on or near the facilities for water supply from Wadi Barada to Damascus
Alongside a pro-Assad offensive to take the Wadi Barada area northwest of Syria’s Damascus — despite a supposed national ceasefire — there is a crucial propaganda battle.
That battle centers on the al-Fija springs in Wadi Barada, which provide more than 60% of the capital’s water. Regime outlets and supporters have proclaiming for more than a week that rebels “poisoned” the supply with diesel fuel — a line which, if successful, would justify the pro-Assad air and ground attacks to reclaim territory.
Opposition activists and rebels, supported by photographs and video, say the regime’s shelling and aerial attacks damaged the pumping station for the springs, knocking it out of service and sending an overflow of water into roads. The UN has implicitly supported the position, without assigning formal blames, by citing attacks on “infrastructure was deliberately targeted”.
So who is disrupting the water to more than 4 million people, leaving them with no more than two hours’ supply each day?
Nick Waters has investigated for Bellingcat, using maps, satellite imagery, videos, and social media output from rebels and from both pro-opposition and pro-Assad activists.
Regime attacks on December 23 near the facilities for the al-Fija springs:
A bomb landing on or close to the facilities:
The Report’s Conclusions
Examining the open source media surrounding this incident we can reach several conclusions:
1. The al-Fija springs are a contested resource and have previously been cut off by the rebels in order to prevent or stop regime offensives.
2. On or before December 25, the rebels had prepared the tunnel from the al-Fija springs to Damascus for demolition.
3. There was regime bombing in and around the vicinity of the al-Fija springs on the 23rd of December, resulting in damage to local buildings and infrastructure.
4. There is a video showing bombs hitting very close to the spring structure, as well as the structure itself, although the exact time and date of the video cannot be established beyond doubt.
5. The same rebel who showed the tunnel being prepared for demolition explicitly blamed the current water crises on bombing by the regime.
Given the regime bombing in close proximity to the spring, as well as video evidence of a bomb impacting the spring structure itself, the most likely scenario is that the regime was responsible for the damage to the spring structure. This bombing is also probably the most likely reason for diesel entering the water supply, whether from a damaged fuel tank, generator, or otherwise.
If the rebels wished to cut the water supply, they could simply block or divert the spring, as they had done in the past. Preparing one of the tunnels for demolition appears to be an act of deterrence, giving the rebels a “nuclear option” in case of regime attack. Destroying the spring structure itself removes any leverage they have and would give the regime a reason to launch an offensive to take Wadi Barada. Considering reports of heavy fighting around Wadi Barada, the damage to the Fijeh Springs indeed appears to have sparked a regime offensive on this pocket.