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Khalifa Ali bin Abu Talib - The Battle for Water

Negotiation for access to water supply

The first task of Ali was to gain an access to the source of water supply. Ali sent a letter to Muawiyah through a delegation. Ali pointed out to Muawiyah that according to the injunctions of Islam as well as according to the rules of warfare, access to water supply could not be denied to the combatants. Ali observed that any armed conflict between the two rides would lead to great loss of life on both the sides. He was therefore keen that the disputes between the two sides should be decided through peaceful negotiations. He added that he was not going to lead an attack unless all possibilities of peace had been exhausted. He brought home the point that in this context it was necessary that both the sides should have equal opportunities of access to water, and the area around the source of water supply should be declared a neutral zone. On receiving the letter of Ali, Muawiyah called his council of war. 'Amr b Al Aas the Commander-in-Chief of the forces of Muawiyah observed that according to the rules of warfare access to water had to be provided to the combatants from both the sides. He suggested that while maintaining over all control over the source of water supply they should allow the men of the forces of Ali to obtain water for their needs at specified hours subject to terms which might be mutually agreed upon.

Abdullah b Abi Sirah, a former Governor of Egypt, and a foster brother of Othman suggested that they should adopt the tactics of delay by neither providing access to the water supply to the other side, nor refusing to do so. He was of the view that because of such delay the forces of Ali would have no option but to retreat from the valley, and when they were on a retreat they could be attacked in the rear.

Some counselors of Muawiyah held that they were seeking vengeance for the blood of Othman. The rebels had denied access to water to Othman. It was accordingly necessary that those who had subjected Othman to the rigors of thirst should likewise be subjected to the suffering. Muawiyah gave an evasive reply to the delegation that he had received from Ali. He did not refuse the demand outright, but did not accept it either. His game was to play for time. In the meantime, he sent reinforcements for his troops that guarded the source of water supply.

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