In a botched attempt to stop drinking water reaching government-held districts of Aleppo, rebels managed to cut off water supplies to large parts of the city in northern Syria including their own strongholds. Women and children are being forced to queue up with cooking pots, kettles and plastic bottles to get water from the fountains of mosques and wells that may be contaminated.
The water shortage started 10 days ago when the rebels, who control the two main pumping stations, tried to keep water flowing to their areas in east Aleppo, but stop it reaching the government-held west of the city. Describing the action as “a crime”, Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that the al-Qa’ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and other rebel groups were responsible for the water shortage.
People in both halves of the divided city have been forced to rely on ancient wells and fountains. In west Aleppo the Red Crescent and government agencies have provided some water but say it is not safe to drink over an extended period. Some trucks used for taking away waste water from houses are now selling drinking water likely to be contaminated. Fights have broken out in queues when members of local defence committees and officials have demanded they be given priority. Aleppo used to have a population of 2.5 million though at least one million have fled fighting.
A member of the Aleppo Water Department told the Beirut paper al-Akhbar that the Sharia Authority, which unites the rebel movements, controls a crucial pumping station in the Suleiman al-Halabi region. He said that there is a “danger of insurgents pumping water only to the neighbourhoods that they control as it might lead to the collapse of the integrated water system”.
In pictures: Syria conflict
In pictures: Syria conflict
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Syrians carry children amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl on a street covered with dust following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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Syrians react as they stand amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man carries a girl amid debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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An injured Syrian man walks out from the rubble of a destroyed building following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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A Syrian woman makes her way through debris following a air strike by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo
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People stand on the rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the Al-Fardous neighbourhood of Aleppo
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Syrian residents stand amid the rubble of destroyed buildings
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A Syrian resident grasps a mattress amid rubble in the al-Firdous neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo
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A bullet-riddled parking sign stands amid debris in a deserted street leading into the old city of Homs
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A general view shows abandoned buildings on a deserted square in the old city of Homs after Syrian government forces regained control of rebel-controlled areas
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A mosque is pictured through shattered glass in the old city of Homs, as rebel fighters withdrew from the city centre in line with a negotiated withdrawal deal with the government after having held out under tight siege for nearly two years
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Buses carrying Free Syrian Army fighters leaving Homs. Exhausted and worn out from a year-long siege, hundreds of Syrian rebels left their last remaining bastions in the heart of the central city of Homs under a cease-fire deal with government forces. The exit of some 1,200 fighters and civilians will mark a de facto end of the rebellion in the battered city, which was one of the first places to rise up against President Bashar Assad's rule, earning it the nickname of "capital of the revolution"
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Syrian government forces hold up a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad (L) while others raise the national flag on top of a pole in the old city of Homs
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad run through Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr crossing after their release by rebels. They were freed as part of a larger deal which saw the last remaining Syrian rebels in central Homs city evacuate their positions and free captives in several locations in northern Syria
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A Syrian woman and two children walk past heavily damaged buildings in the northern city of Aleppo
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A man carries a wounded girl following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Mowasalat neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A wounded man sits as he is treated at a makeshift hospital following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by Syrian government forces in the al-Sakhour district of the northern city of Aleppo
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Debris rises in what Free Syrian Army fighters and Islamic rebels said was an operation to strike Al-Sahaba checkpoint, which is considered a gateway to Al-Dayf valley, and remove forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Maarat Al-Nouman, Idlib province
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Men try to put out fire at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Civil Defence members try to put out fire
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Survivors react at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, near the border with Turkey
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Residents queue as they wait to receive food aid distributed by the UNRWA at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus
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Belongings of Syrian rebels inside a chapel at Crac des Chevaliers, the world's best preserved medieval Crusader castle in Syria. The village was destroyed in fighting between the government and rebel forces while the castle, listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, also has been damaged over the past two years
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Hosen Sabah, a 16-year-old student is comforted by his mother at a hospital in Damascus. Nosen was wounded by a mortar outside his school, while 14 other students were killed and over 80 wounded
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A Free Syrian Army fighter works on a locally made launcher before firing it towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Mork town
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Syrian policemen and citizens inspecting the site of a car bomb at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus. According to Syria's Arab News Agency (SANA), a car bomb explosion has gone off in the countryside of Damascus and initial information say there are casualties, where a car rigged with explosions was remotely detonated at the entrance of Moadhamiyet al-Sham neighborhood in rural Damascus during engineering units it was trying to dismantled it
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Opposition fighters carrying a rocket launcher during clashes against government forces in the Sheikh Lutfi area, west of the airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A Syrian man helps a woman to make her way through debris following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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A Syrian man reacts as he carries the body of injured boy following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 33 civilians were killed in the attack
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Syrian rescue workers carry the body of a woman following reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
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Syrians gather at the site of reported air strikes by government forces in the Halak neighbourhood in northeastern Aleppo
Even before the recent cut-off of supplies, the water system of Aleppo depended on a degree of grudging co-operation between government and opposition mediated by the Red Crescent. The pumping station depends on deliveries of diesel to fuel a generator.
Water has become very expensive in a city where it used to be free. It is the latest disaster to befall Aleppo which, since 2012, has been divided in two. The government has been dropping barrel bombs packed with explosives on rebel districts causing heavy casualties and a further exodus of the population. The rebels have been firing mortars randomly into government areas.
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Unlike in central and southern Syria, the rebels are holding their own in Aleppo where they recently launched an offensive which government forces had difficulty in repelling. Last week the Islamic Front detonated explosives at the end of a 400yd-long tunnel under the Carlton Citadel Hotel killing many government soldiers.
The forces of the opposition are dominated by Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qa’ida type groups. Their civil war with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) is mostly being fought further east along the Euphrates Valley with 100,00o people being forced to flee their homes in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor in recent days. The Syrian Observatory says that battles between Jabhat al-Nusra and Isis killed 230 fighters in the last 10 days.
The rebels are concentrating their efforts on Aleppo after the final loss of Homs Old City last week when 1,200 rebel fighters were evacuated on buses. Though the government has long been in control of most of Homs, the evacuation marks a serious symbolic defeat for the opposition since the city has been at the centre of media attention. Only the Waer district in the north-west of Homs now remains under partial rebel control, but is sealed off by government checkpoints.