Wadi Barada is situated in the North of Damascus, near lebanese border, on the road to Zabadani. The area is a narrow valley surrounded by mountain cliffs. It is a strategic area as a water pipeline passes through it to feed Damascus city. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the area has been controlled by the rebels, but is surrounded by the syrian army controlling the heights and the roads accessing to the area. The area is run by a rebel coalition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Majlis Al-Mujahideen, a group that is known to have cut off the water supply to Damascus from the Ayn al-Fijah spring (the Fija spring provides two thirds of the drinking water consumed in the capital city) on August 14, 2015, leading the loyalists forces to blockade the area during several days.
The forces in presence
Islamic state is reported to have a presence in the valley since December 10, 2014 :
ISIS called on the opposition factions in Wadi Barada—mainly Jabhat al-Nusra—to swear allegiance to its self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and its local emir, a Jordanian named Sheikh Abu Bakr al-‘Attar. The jihadi group added that it planned to declare Wadi Barada part of its caliphate, as part of its baqa’ wa tamaddud (remain and expand) strategy. Thus far Jabhat al-Nusra has not sworn allegiance to Baghdadi, but a number of its members have. ‘Attar himself left al-Nusra at the end of 2014 (source : http://merip.org/mero/mero051315)
They conducted an execution in August 2015.
Loyalists forces :
The main military units operating in Wadi Barada are the Thirteenth and 104th Brigades of the Republican Guard. These troops are posted on hilltops and ridges from which they can easily fire upon targets in the valley below. In addition, forces of the 105th Brigade of the Republican Guard and the so-called Suicide Battalion are positioned in the area. The latter, made up of 4,000 to 6,000 soldiers, is attached to the Fourth Armored Division led by Bashar al-Asad’s brother, Mahir. (source : http://merip.org/mero/mero051315)
Although few clashes are reported in the area, loyalists forces regularly shell some places from surrounding mountain tops in the south of the valley, such as Jabal Nabi habil.
A view of hill-top loyalists artillery from the valley :
There are three main opposition factions: the nominally secular Free Syrian Army, the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and another salaficoalition known mainly as Ahrar al-Sham. Ahrar al-Sham, in turn, is part of the Islamic Front, the Saudi-backed grouping whose constituent elements operate under various names in different parts of the country. (source : http://merip.org/mero/mero051315)