Damascus, US-backed Syrian fighters on Monday paused their offensive for a key dam held by ISIL to allow a technical team to enter the complex, a spokeswoman said.
There have been fears about the integrity of the dam after fighting in the area forced it out of service on Sunday, following earlier UN warnings that a collapse would be “catastrophic”.
With air support from the US-led coalition against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are fighting to seize the town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam on the Euphrates River, as part of their battle to take the hardline group’s self-declared capital of Raqqa.
“To ensure the integrity of the Tabqa dam… we have decided to stop operations for four hours beginning at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT),” SDF spokeswoman Jihad Sheikh Ahmed said in a statement.
“This is to allow a team of engineers to enter the dam and carry out their work,” she added.
The decision followed a request by the Syrian government’s water authority.
The director of the Syrian government’s General Authority of Euphrates Dam, which formerly operated the huge project, blamed US strikes in the past two days for disrupting internal control systems and putting the dam out of service.
The dam, Syria’s largest, stretches 4.5 km across the Euphrates river. ISIL captured the dam and a nearby air base, located about 40 km upstream from Raqqa, at the height of its expansion in Syria and Iraq in 2014.
“There was growing concern over the weekend [about the dam’s potential collapse]. In fact, ISIL was driving around nearby villages and towns warning them that there was a danger of flooding,” said Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Beirut.
ISIL issued warnings through its propaganda agency Amaq on Sunday that the dam could collapse “at any moment”.