Clashes near Damascus after negotiator's killing

Activists have called for international observers to oversee Syria ceasefire

DAMASCUS - Regime bombardment of a flashpoint region near Syria's capital on Sunday killed seven civilians, a monitor said, in the deadliest attack there since a nationwide truce came into force.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces shelled Deir Qanun, a village in the Wadi Barada region, which is the main source of water for Damascus.
"This is the highest toll there since the beginning of the truce" on December 30, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
At least 20 other people were wounded in the attack, some critically.
Activists from the Wadi Barada Media Committee said on Twitter that the shells struck a temporary shelter where displaced women and children had been seeking refuge.
Heavy clashes erupted overnight between regime and rebel forces near Damascus after the official who negotiated a deal to restore water to the Syrian capital was killed, the Observatory said.
Government workers had entered the formerly rebel-held area in the Wadi Barada region near Damascus on Friday to begin restoring water to the capital after weeks of shortages.
"Fierce fighting broke out after midnight between regime forces, fighters from Hezbollah and the rebels, after gunmen killed the negotiator, Ahmed al-Ghadban," said Abdel Rahman.
Ghadban had been on his way to the Ain al-Fijeh spring with maintenance teams, he said.
But following the killing of Ghadban, "regime forces and their allies tried to advance to Ain al-Fijeh," bombarding rebel positions with heavy artillery, said Abdel Rahman.
The two sides accused each other of killing the retired army officer, who had only assumed his duties to restore the water supply on Saturday.
Under the agreement, Ghadban was to oversee teams working to repair the infrastructure that supplies the capital with water in exchange for a cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of rebel fighters willing to do so.
The official SANA news agency reported on Saturday night that "terrorists opened fire" on Ghadban after he left a meeting with armed groups in the village of Ain al-Fijeh.
Activists and civil committees in Wadi Barada denounced the killing of Ghadban, which they said had been ordered by the regime with the intention to "kill any hope of a peaceful solution".
In a joint statement, they urged rebel factions not to attend peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana later this month and called for international observers to monitor the ceasefire.
Fighting has persisted in Wadi Barada since the entry into force on December 30 of the ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey.
The violence caused damage to pipes, leaving more than five million people in Damascus without water.
The ceasefire and planned talks are the latest effort to negotiate an end to a conflict that has killed more than 310,000 people since it began with anti-government protests in March 2011.