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Syria: Reports of ceasefire near Damascus 'a lie'

"Iran and the Assad regime are exploiting the fragile ceasefire to seize liberated areas around the capital before the start of the Astana negotiations,"

A senior Syrian opposition official denied a report that a ceasefire had been reached between armed opposition factions and government forces in the Wadi Barada area near Damascus yesterday, where Assad regime bombardments have knocked out the capital's main water source.

The government and allied fighters from the Lebanese group Hezbollah launched an attack two weeks ago to take back Wadi Barada where a spring provides water supplies to four million people in the capital.

A military news outlet run by Hezbollah reported that a ceasefire had been reached for "a number of hours" in the area.

But Munir Sayal, head of the political wing of the Ahrar Al-Sham rebel group, told Reuters the report was "a lie".

He said that the government had on Thursday rejected a ceasefire that would have allowed for repairs to the water pumping station and for people to return to two nearby villages from which they had been displaced.

Opposition groups say the government bombed the water pumping station at the start of the campaign. The United Nations has said it was put of action by "deliberate targeting" but has declined to say which side was responsible.

Footage circulating social media from the Wadi Barada Media Centre shows Russian-made aircraft conducting airstrikes on the region and dropping barrel bombs, suggesting that forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad were responsible.

The Syrian opposition and other rebel factions do not have access to air assets.

The fighting in Wadi Barada has overshadowed a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey over a week ago to pave the way to peace talks they hope to convene in Kazakhstan later this month.

Syrian opposition groups said on Monday they had decided to freeze any talks about their possible participation in the negotiations unless the Syrian government and its Iran-backed allies end what they said were violations of the ceasefire.

"Iran and the Assad regime are exploiting the fragile ceasefire to seize liberated areas around the capital before the start of the Astana negotiations," Sayal said.

The United Nations said yesterday that children were at risk of waterborne diseases in Damascus where 5.5 million people have had little or no running water for two weeks as a result of the Assad regime's bombardment of the critical Ain Al-Fijah spring and pumping stations.

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