Government troops and repair workers have taken control over the key water plant near Damascus after rebels agreed to pull out. The handover comes as millions of nearby civilians suffer from a weeks-long water shortage.
Repair teams have arrived at the Ain el-Fijeh spring and are inspecting the damaged pumping station, a Hezbollah news outlet and the UK-based Syrian Human Rights Observatory reported on Saturday. The plant provides nearly two-thirds of the potable water for Damascus residents.
The supply could be reconnected within days, according to the Observatory.
Over 5.5 million people were affected by the cutoff in the greater Damascus area, which followed a clash between the regime forces and rebels near the spring in December. The government accused the rebels of polluting the spring with diesel, which rebels denied.
Rebels leave for Idlib
During the following weeks, civilians in Damascus were forced to seek out public bathhouses for washing and buy bottled water at three times the usual cost. The authorities were also forced to supply hospitals with tanker trucks.
The government sent in service teams in mid-January after negotiating with rebels controlling the spring, but the deal fell through after a government-appointed mediator was shot dead.
Observers disagreed on whether the source originally was sabotaged by rebels or simply damaged in the fighting. However, multiple media outlets had reported on rebels cutting off the water supply in July 2016 and threatening to destroy the plant if attacked by the army.
Before the Saturday handover, the regime officials agreed to allow the local rebels to evacuate to other rebel-held areas in the Idlib province.
dj/sms (dpa, AP, Reuters, Interfax)