Syrian opposition: Shelling of displaced shelter kills 12

Syrian government forces shelled a village in a rebel-controlled area near Damascus on Sunday, killing at least 12 civilians and injuring several others who were taking shelter in a banquet hall.

The violence in the water-rich Barada Valley, which has raged since Dec. 22, has tested the country's fragile cease-fire and restricted the flow of water to the capital. Despite an agreement to allow maintenance workers in to fix the water facility in the rebel-controlled valley, the violence continued, also trapping an estimated 100,000 residents.

On Sunday, shells fell on al-Reem banquet hall in Deir Qanoun village in the valley that houses hundreds of civilians who had escaped the intensified fighting. The activist-operated Wadi Barada Media Center said 12 were killed and more than 20 were injured. The group posted pictures of the bloodied floors of the hall, some of them showing bodies with severed limbs.

In a video posted by the opposition Step News agency, a civilian in the hall said the shelling killed his wife, daughter and niece. The distressed man called for help as he tried to piece together the bodies of his killed family. "Their flesh was torn apart, so if there's someone to help us out," the man said as he walked away from the camera.

There were signs of massive destruction in the hall, with furniture broken, walls destroyed and blood stains on the tile floors.

Fuad Abu Hattab, an exiled resident of Barada Valley and an activist with the group, said medical teams have been unable to move around the valley because of the fighting and it is not clear if the dozens of injured are getting any immediate care.

Abu Hattab said the center has served as a shelter for many displaced civilians who escaped the ongoing violence in the valley and other parts of rural Damascus. The hall has an area for weddings, as well as a restaurant and a number of rooms. It had largely been spared the intense fighting, Abu Hattab said.

The Syrian Civil Defense, a team of volunteer first responders in the rebel-held parts of Syria, also put the death toll at 12, saying the shelling hit a displaced people's center.

Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at seven but said it was likely to rise because some of the injured are in critical condition.

Fighting has raged in the valley that provides the Syrian capital with most of its water supply. In recent days, government and allied troops have been advancing in the valley despite talks to stem the violence.

The Lebanese Hezbollah group, which has fighters on the side of the Syrian government, said pro-government troops seized a hill overlooking the water source in the valley Sunday.

Meanwhile, in eastern Syria, Islamic State group militants kept up their offensive on government-held areas of the contested city of Deir el-Zour, attacking a military air base from several fronts. The group said in statements posted on social media it attacked the airport from the west Sunday, seizing a sentry base used by government soldiers there.

The Observatory said the group's militants also advanced on a hill overlooking the city. If it secures the hill, the Observatory said, IS militants would be able to sever the road between the air base and another army base nearby.

Deir el-Zour carries strategic significance for IS as it links the group's Iraq territory to its de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. The group is under intense pressure in both countries and has lost significant territory in recent months.

The extremist group, which controls most of Deir el-Zour province, has kept the provincial capital under siege since 2014. The new multi-pronged assault that began Saturday is its most intense attack on government areas since January 2016.

Government forces have withstood the encirclement thanks to air-dropped humanitarian assistance and weapons and ammunition flown into the airport. Remaining residents have reported malnourishment and starvation amid severe shortages of food, water and fuel.

© The Associated Press FILE - This file frame grab from video provided on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016 by Step News Agency, a Syrian opposition media outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows smoke rise from the government…


'Shelling kills civilians' in Syria's Wadi Barada area

Troops allied to the Syrian government have shelled a village in a rebel-controlled area near its capital Damascus, killing at least seven civilians, according to a monitoring group.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said shells hit al-Reem banquet hall in the village of Deir Qanun on Sunday.

The incident occurred in the Wadi Barada valley, which is the main source of water for Damascus.

The banquet hall has been housing hundreds of civilians who have escaped the intensified fighting for Wadi Barada that started on December 22, according to local activists.

The SOHR said besides the fatalities, at least 20 other people were wounded in the attack, some of them critically.

"This is the highest toll there since the beginning of the truce [on December 30]," said Rami Abdel Rahman, SOHR's head.

A difference source, the activist-operated Wadi Barada Media Centre, said 12 people were killed and more than 20 injured in Sunday's shelling.

The group posted pictures of the bloodied floors of the hall on social media, some of them showing bodies with severed limbs.

Medical teams have been unable to move around the valley because of the fighting and it is not clear if the dozens of injured are getting any immediate care, according to Fuad Abu Hattab, an exiled local resident and a Wadi Barada Media Centre activist.

The Syrian Civil Defence, a team of volunteer first-responders in rebel-held parts of Syria, also put the death toll at 12.

Heavy clashes between government troops and rebel forces have rocked Wadi Barada since Saturday, after the death of the government official who negotiated a deal to restore water to Damascus.

Ahmed al-Ghadban had been on his way to the main Ain al-Fijeh spring with government maintenance teams when he was killed.

Opposition fighters and government officials have traded blame over the killing of the retired army officer, who had assumed his duties on Saturday.

Under the agreement, Ghadban was to oversee teams working to repair the infrastructure that supplies Damascus with water in exchange for a cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of rebel fighters willing to do so.

About 5.5 million in Damascus and its suburbs have been without water since December 22.

Fighting has persisted in Wadi Barada since the December 30 ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey.

The ceasefire and planned talks are the latest efforts to negotiate an end to a conflict that has killed more than 400,000 people since it began with anti-government protests in March 2011.


Syrian opposition: Shelling in water-rich valley kills 7

Syrian opposition activists say government shelling has struck a village in a rebel-controlled area near Damascus, killing at least seven civilians and injuring several others, in violence that has tested the country's fragile cease-fire.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says shelling Sunday in Deir Qanoun village in the water-rich Wadi Barada valley killed at least seven and injured more than 20, some in serious condition. Activist-operated Wadi Barada Media Center put the toll at 12.

Fighting has raged in the valley that provides the Syrian capital with most of its water supply, restricting the flow since Dec.22, despite talks to stem the violence.

Lebanese Hezbollah group, which has fighters on the side of the Syrian government, said pro-government troops seized a hill overlooking the water source in the valley.

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