Turkish-backed council in northern Syria withholding water supplies as 'collective punishment'

Residents in the northern Syrian city of Azaz are complaining that a local city council supported by Turkey is denying them access to water. Some suggest that it is a form of “collective punishment” for unpaid taxes, Syria-based Northern Press Agency reported on Sunday.

According to those interviewed by NPA, the city council in Azaz decided to cut water supplies to certain neighbourhoods where tax collection went below 50 percent. In their decision, the council argued that water tax collection did not exceed 30 percent across the city.

Residents who were interviewed say that they did not willingly choose to avoid tax payments. They instead pointed to the lack of jobs, difficult living conditions and rising inflation that has made payments more difficult to make.

The region’s economy was altered after its central currency was moved from the Syrian pound to the Turkish lira after the former collapsed from hyperinflation. Now that the Turkish lira itself is losing value amidst an inflation surge that has spilled over into northern Syria. 

Turkey has supported Syrian rebels in the region since the early days of Syria’s civil war. In 2016, Turkey launched a military campaign to dislodge the Islamic State and Syrian Kurdish from region which led to their capture of Azaz. 

Complaints that Turkey and its proxies are actively preventing water supplies from reaching communities in Syria are not new. Ankara has denied that it or the administration it set up in the region are responsible for water shortages, but locals, international organisations, and the Syrian government have all accused it of responsibility for the crisis.

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