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No Water, Electricity Due to Power Struggles in Syria

Sides trade accusations of blame over gas pipeline blast near Damascus, water cutoff in Kurdish region

A powerful explosion damaged the Arab Gas Pipeline northeast of Damascus early on Monday, causing power outages throughout Syria.

Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Ghanem called it a “terrorist act.”

The electricity minister, Muhammad Zuhair Kharboutli, told a Syrian channel: “The explosion took place in the Arab Gas Pipeline between Al-Dameer and Adra, in the countryside of Damascus.”

He added that the explosion was the sixth of its kind on the pipeline in the same area, and led to a drop in pressure at the Deir Ali power plant and the loss of large quantities of natural gas. As a consequence, the generators went offline.

The Arab Gas Pipeline system runs from Egypt into Jordan and Syria.

Malek AlHafez, an Amman-based Syrian writer and political researcher, told The Media Line that the Assad government’s suggestion that the interruption was due to a terrorist act made no sense for several reasons, chief among them that all of southern Syria was under government control and high security, “and the area in which the explosion occurred has military bases and is always under surveillance.

“[That it was] a terrorist act is impossible,” AlHafez said.

The incident was the result of nothing more than negligence and inaction by the authorities, he said. “This explosion will have an economic impact due to power cuts to important economic sectors, as well as the cost of repair at a time when the government is under increasing pressure,” AlHafez said.

Meanwhile, in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (also known as Rojava), the Water Directorate in the city of Hasakah, the capital of the Hasakah Governorate, said that the Turkish army, in cooperation with Syrian opposition factions that Ankara backs, had stopped pumping water from the Alouk water station on August 15, in the seventh cutoff since October 2019.

The Water Directorate said that the local authorities in Ras al-Ain had deliberately stopped the work of the station, affecting 460,000 residents in and around the city of Hasakah.

Politics in the Autonomous Administration is dominated by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a member of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) organization.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called on all parties to adhere to international law and protect the main sources of water, so all inhabitants can share it fairly.

AlHafez said the cutoff of water in Hasakah came as a continuation of Turkey’s approach of “political blackmail” in the area controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) − the military arm of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration − as Ankara aimed to expand its control of Syria east of the Euphrates River.

“This cut comes as part of a Turkish plan to put more pressure on the SDF on the one hand, as well as to put pressure on the Russians, with whom they struck a secret deal to exchange areas of influence there, so that the Turks would control new areas east of the Euphrates in exchange for Russia to obtain other areas in Idlib [in northwestern Syria]. However, this deal has not yet been implemented due to several reasons and developments,” he continued.

Turkey and the Syrian opposition factions supported by it cutting off the water supply in the area was nothing new, but this time it was for a longer time due to Ankara’s ambitions to widen its control in the region, AlHafez said.

“Turkish pressure on civilians is a known tool of war that Ankara uses to advance its agenda,” he said.

AlHafez said, however, that the issue was on the way to a resolution, after a temporary Russian-Turkish agreement, which stipulated the resumption of pumping water to Hasakah in exchange for providing electricity to the area east of the Euphrates River that the Turks had taken during their 2019 Operation Peace Spring offensive against the Kurds.

“The Kurdish Autonomous Administration was forced to agree to this due to the ‘thirst policy’ that Turkey had pursued for more than two weeks,” he said.

Hasan, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon and a political analyst, asked The Media Line to withhold his last name to protect his safety. He said that the main and above-board reason for the water cut in Hasakah was the power outage caused by the sabotage of electric generator stations in the region on the one hand, and the lack of fuel at the water supply pumps in the city, on the other.

“The indirect or hidden cause is the power struggle between the ruling regime in Syria and the Syrian Democratic Council [the political body to which the SDF reports], as they both follow a policy of systematic starvation in the region, with each competing to portray itself as the savior and gain the support of people who are looking for help,” he said.

Hasan added that the Assad regime had a policy of sabotaging facilities and infrastructure and then claiming they were damaged in acts of terrorism, especially since the US Caesar Act took effect, in an effort to gain the sympathy of the international community for “fighting terrorism.”

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which went into effect on June 17, broadens US sanctions to include Syrian officials, any foreign person who deals with the Syrian government, and several sectors in the country from construction to oil and gas. Its name is taken from the code name of a military photographer who escaped Syria with 53,275 images of torture and death from inside its prisons.

Hasan added that most of the sabotage that led to power and water outages in Syria was carried out by the regime’s intelligence service, “which for more than 50 years has been pursuing an approach of sabotage that leads to punishing the Syrian people on the one hand and portraying itself as fighting terrorism on the other hand.”

Salah Qerata, a Madrid-based security analyst who until 2013 was a senior intelligence officer in the Syrian army, told The Media Line that after Hasakah suffered under the Islamic State, which took control of the entire governorate and killed and tortured its people, the Americans came to support “separatist elements,” taking advantage of the war conditions in an effort to separate the city from the Syrian state.

“There are some extremists from the Syrian Kurdish component who have called themselves the Syrian Democratic Forces, in order to make the people of the province hostile to the Arabs by practicing all forms of oppression through humiliation,” he said.

The goal appeared to be to declare a “separatist entity” in northeastern Syria that “copies, cooperates and even integrates with the Zionist entity,” in order to show solidarity with the enemies of Syria and the Syrians, Qerata said.

“The Turkish side has always cut off the Euphrates’ waters which feed the turbines that generate electricity, leading to its interruption,” he said. “The de facto authorities have worked, apart from the Kurdish side, during the past month to cut off electricity and water, in a clear and explicit effort to displace the Syrian Arabs in the governorate.”

Qerata said the goal was to achieve demographic change in preparation for the establishment of a separatist Kurdish entity supported by the US.

“Of course, this does not appeal to the Turks, but events have proven that the enemies’ [the Turks’ and the Kurds’] interests are intersecting in their hostility to Syria and the Syrians, and this is what happened in a complete absence of the Syrian government because it does not control practically the entire province of Hasakah,” he said.