Ain al-Fijah in the Wadi Barada valley is home to the spring and pumping station that serve the population in and around the Syrian capital of Damascus. It also used to be a popular social hub for locals and tourists alike.
Now it looks like a ghost town after being caught in the cross-fire of the country’s near six-year-old civil war.
Recalling happier times in the area, residents of the mountainous valley northwest of Damascus say it was full of lively restaurants, cafes and resorts. But over the past few weeks the area was abandoned after witnessing one of the fiercest battlefronts in the war.
The Syrian army and allied forces entered Ain al-Fijah in Wadi Barada valley, where the spring and pumping station are located, on Saturday (January 28) and retook the area on Sunday (January 29), in a blow to rebel groups that have fought for years to unseat President Bashar al-Assad.
But since the capture of Wadi Barada, disruption to water supplies, including infrastructure damage in the area, has caused acute shortages in Damascus.
Rebels and activists have said that government bombardment damaged the spring. The government said insurgent groups polluted it with diesel, forcing the state to cut supplies.
The once-crowded village of Ain al-Fijah is now almost completely empty, with restaurants and cafes badly damaged in the clashes.
“This area here was full of cafes and resorts. I owned a resort here. It was heaven, heaven on earth. May God forgive whoever led us and our country to this situation. I have a picture that shows how people used to enjoy these resorts. No matter what I say I will not do it justice,” said Taher Kreiky, a local restaurant owner.
“People depended on these cafes, resorts and restaurants for their income. There is no other way for them to make a living,” he added.
Another resident described how people used to congregate here for barbecues and family outings.
“The area used to be very crowded, some grilling meat, others making tea, eating and drinking, some praying, some sitting with their friends. Wadi Barada was a gathering point, it was Damascus’ high point,” said Abu Fida.
The recapture of Wadi Barada came weeks after rebels were driven from their last major urban stronghold of east Aleppo, in Assad’s biggest gain of the conflict yet.
Military support from Assad’s foreign allies, including Russia, Iran and Lebanese group Hezbollah, have been instrumental in helping turn the civil war in his favor.