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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Shelling Near Syrian Capital Hits Civilian Crisis Shelter, 30 Casualties Reported

By VOA News January 15, 2017

Monitors say artillery fire from Syrian government forces hit a crisis shelter Sunday near Damascus, killing or wounding at least 30 civilians who had fled to the site to avoid nearby fighting between rebels and the Syrian army.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors and reports on fighting in the war-ravaged country, called the attack at the Barada Valley town of Deir Qanoon a massacre. The observatory said it has confirmed seven deaths and a number of critical injuries that would likely push the death toll higher.

Video from the opposition STEP News Agency showed a civilian pointing to the blood-smeared floor of the shelter, saying the shelling had killed his wife and two other family members. Nearby, a half-dozen bodies lay strewn in the wreckage of the facility.

The fighting north of Damascus in the water-rich valley has raged since December 22, when Barada River water supplies to the capital and its 5.5 million residents were severely curtailed due to water contamination.

The government accused rebel forces of poisoning the water with diesel fuel, while opposition leaders say the contamination began when government airstrikes heavily damaged a key water processing facility.

Local officials said Friday that engineers had begun repairs to the plant as part of a broader deal that allowed the safe departure of some rebel fighters and a temporary truce with others while repairs were made.

But the observatory said the deal fell apart late Saturday when gunmen shot and killed the head of the negotiating team overseeing the truce.

Fighting was also reported Sunday in eastern Syria, where Islamic State extremists launched an offensive against government forces a day earlier in the city of Deir Ezzor.

Video from the pan-Arabic al-Masdar news agency showed government airstrikes pounding jihadist targets, as IS fighters in the besieged city of 200,000 residents seek to crush the government force that has been encircled for nearly two years.

The IS attack, described as the largest assault on Syrian forces in the city in months, came as a large group of rebel forces fighting to topple the Damascus government announced support for upcoming peace talks mediated by Russia and Turkey.

The talks are set to open January 23 in the Kazakh capital, Astana, but it is not yet clear which of the many rebel factions battling the government have been invited to attend.

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