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Turkey-backed forces accused of cutting water to Syrian Kurdish-held region

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Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces have stopped a pumping station in Ras al-Ain from providing water to hundreds of thousands of people including internally displaced Syrians and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captives and their families, the Al-Monitor news website reported on Tuesday.

Turkey’s pressure campaign on Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria took a fresh sinister turn this week when Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces reportedly halted service at the Alok pumping station in the Turkish-occupied town of Ras al-Ain. The facility supplies water to approximately 460,000 people, including hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians as well as ISIL captives and their families.

“The Turkish-backed sources entered the water station [Feb. 24] and forced it to stop its work and threw out the technicians as well,” wrote Sozda Ahmed of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in Northeast Syria. She told Al-Monitor via the Rojava Information Center in emailed comments, “As a result the city of al Hasakah, Tell Tamar and the rest of the Hasakah region — including Hol and Shedadi — have been left without water. Arisha camp, Hol camp [housing ISIL fighters’ families] and Washokani camp [housing internally displaced Syrians from Ras al-Ain] have all been affected.”

Ankara has long been accused of seeking to suffocate the Syrian Kurdish-run region economically as well as militarily and politically, all part of a campaign to torpedo Kurdish aspirations of self-rule. Turkey’s borders with the Kurdish-administered northeast from Manbij all the way to the Iraqi border further east remain sealed, including to humanitarian organizations.

Meanwhile, coming amid a global scare over the coronavirus epidemic, a sustained water cut could spell disaster for Hasakah as local authorities struggle to cope with overcrowded displacement camps crammed with infants and children.

Ahmed said the reasons for the stoppage were not clear to the local authorities. “We only know the station has been prevented from working. We don’t know why they did this or what they want from us.” Nor was it clear whether Turkey gave the orders.

The technicians who were allegedly evicted from the Alok facility are believed to be members of a Syrian government team that routinely visits the station for maintenance purposes and has continued to do so following Turkey’s October “Operation Peace Spring” invasion of Ras al-Ain. Alok was first put out of service by shelling during the Turkish push, the United Nations reported on Oct. 18.

Kurdish authorities blamed Turkish artillery fire. Service was partially restored with the facility operating at about 20 percent capacity.

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