November 20, 2013
By Syria Direct news staff
AMMAN: As the battle for the Qalamoun region begins to unfold, at least one area in the mountainous region north of Damascus is hoping to protect itself from further instability through a pact of mutually assured destruction with the regime.
Wadi Barada is a loose collection of about 13 villages located throughout the Barada River valley. Before the war it was considered a touristic site and includes the villages and towns of Dumar, Qadsaya, Asrhrafyet al-Wadi, al-Hamaeh, Ein al-Fijef and Einal-Khadra.
Among Syrians, Wadi Barada is best known as the home of Ein al-Fija, 15 kilometers northwest of Damascus, a spring which provides drinking to many of the capital’s neighborhoods, including Mezzeh and Malki, the wealthiest districts that count top regime officials and supporters among its population.
“The rebels have sent a direct threat to the regime saying that if they harm this area, they will cut off the water from Ein al-Fija,” an engineer who works for the spring’s water authority told Syria Direct.
The spring at Ein al-Fijeh, circled above, provides water for many Damascus neighborhoods.
State media has reported that “terrorist groups” have threatened to poison the supply with arsenic, a charge pro-opposition Syrians in Wada Barada deny, saying that poison would impact rebels, activists and their families as well.
Though both sides maintain an uneasy truce in regard to the spring, regime forces encircle the town, which was captured by FSA rebels in February 2012. The FSA kept the engineers and technicians in place who were working at the spring, and use them to send messages to the regime, the engineer said. The regime does the same, and “if they don’t get daily updates about the spring, the person in charge of updating will be fired,” he added.
Last month, Wadi Barada was rocked by a car bomb that detonated in front of a mosque following Friday prayers. 40 were killed, including 7 children, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, while hundreds of others were injured in the attack. No group claimed official responsibility, while state television reported Jabhat al-Nusra’s “terrorists” were responsible
The blast, activists say, only aggravated tensions in Wadi Barada. The area is 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] northwest of Damascus and is now home to about 600,000 people, many of whom are internally displaced after fleeing violence in Homs.
Regime opponents in the Wadi’s towns paint a portrait of overcrowding due to internally displaced Syrians decamping in Wadi Barada, with children wandering the streets because schools cannot take them, regime snipers firing on the town’s outskirts while driving by, residents hoarding food out of fear the regime’s blockade could tighten and cut off the food supply along with regime spies in the city’s midst.
“The regime doesn’t have a public presence in Wadi Barada but it has spies inside and people who say they are with the revolution but they are informants,” said Mohammed al-Sayid, 24, an activist who worked the night shift at a local hotel before the revolution.
The tactic is one the regime has used since the beginning of the revolution, al-Sayid said. “They want to bring people to their knees and incite sedition among them.”
“Kids spent most of their time in the streets, and we tried with school officials to organize this but children don’t want to go to school anymore – they enjoy the chaos,” said Adnan, 29, a local activist.
The strain of the internally displaced Syrians is also taking a toll. “Some internally displaced Syrians work at small coffee stands selling cigarettes, work at gas stations, or don’t work at all,” Adnan added.
The mutual agreement to leave Ein al-Fija intact may not last indefinitely. Fighting around the town has resulted in damaged pipes, the engineer said.
“Water levels are much worse this year than previously because most pipes were impacted by shells and heavy missiles, so we lost a lot of water in the streets and were not able to repair them,” he said.
Meanwhile, last month’s car bomb highlights the security challenges rebels face in so-called liberated areas, with activists saying that residents’ fears of what lies ahead are fueling their paranoia.
“No one trusts anyone anymore,” said activist Mohammed al-Sayid.