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Syrian opposition: Shelling of displaced shelter kills 12

Beirut: Syrian government forces shelled a village in a rebel-controlled area near Damascus today, killing at least 12 civilians and injuring several others who were taking shelter in a banquet hall.

The violence in the water-rich Barada Valley, which has raged since December 22, has tested the country’s fragile ceasefire and restricted the flow of water to the capital. Despite an agreement to allow maintenance workers in to fix the water facility in the rebel-controlled valley, the violence continued, also trapping an estimated 100,000 residents.

Today, shells fell on al-Reem banquet hall in Deir Qanoun village in the valley that houses hundreds of civilians who had escaped the intensified fighting. The activist-operated Wadi Barada Media Center said 12 were killed and more than 20 were injured. The group posted pictures of the bloodied floors of the hall, some of them showing bodies with severed limbs.

In a video posted by the opposition Step News agency, a civilian in the hall said the shelling killed his wife, daughter and niece. The distressed man called for help as he tried to piece together the bodies of his killed family.

“Their flesh was torn apart, so if there’s someone to help us out,” the man said as he walked away from the camera. There were signs of massive destruction in the hall with furniture broken, walls destroyed and bloodstains on the tile floors.

Fuad Abu Hattab, an exiled resident of Barada Valley and an activist with the group, said medical teams have been unable to move around the valley because of the fighting and it is not clear if the dozens of injured are getting any immediate care.

Abu Hattab said the centre has served as a shelter for many displaced civilians who escaped the ongoing violence in the valley and other parts of rural Damascus. The hall has an area for weddings as well as a restaurant and a number of rooms. It had largely been spared the intense fighting, Abu Hattab said.

The Syrian Civil Defense, a team of volunteer first responders in the rebel-held parts of Syria, also put the death toll at 12, saying the shelling hit a displaced people’s centre.

Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at seven but said it was likely to rise because some of the injured are in critical condition.

Fighting has raged in the valley that provides the Syrian capital with most of its water supply. In recent days, government and allied troops have been advancing in the valley despite talks to stem the violence.