Syria army enters key water plant near capital
DAMASCUS - Syria's army on Saturday entered a key water pumping station outside the capital for the first time in four years after a deal with rebels, state television said.
"The Syrian army hoisted the Syrian flag above the installation" at Ain al-Fijeh, which rebels first seized in 2012, state television said.
The move comes after more than a month of fighting in the Wadi Barada area, despite a fragile nationwide truce that led to peace talks earlier this week in Kazakhstan.
Around 5.5 million people in Damascus and its suburbs have been without water since fighting intensified in the Wadi Barada area in late December.
Earlier this month, rebels struck a truce with Syrian authorities to allow the water pipes to be repaired, but the deal was called off after a mediator was killed.
"It's the first time the deal is actually being implemented," Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, said.
Rebels have withdrawn from the water plant but remained in the wider area of Ain al-Fijeh, the monitoring group chief said.
But he said it was just "a first stage" in implementing the deal towards repairing the station and allowing water to return to millions in the capital.
The regime has accused the rebels of cutting off the mains, while the armed opposition said regime bombardment had destroyed the infrastructure.
Red Cross ambulances entered Wadi Barada on Saturday, the Observatory said.
As part of the deal, rebels can choose to stay in the area but hand over their weapons, or leave to the northern province of Idlib, last major bastion of the armed opposition.
More than 310,000 people have been killed since Syria's conflict broke out in March 2011 with anti-government protests that were brutally repressed.