Thousands of Syrians flee as two major battles rage

#SyriaWar

10,000 streamed out of Eastern Ghouta on Saturday, with another 150,000 fleeing Afrin since Wednesday according to a monitor

A man pulls a cart with a woman sitting on it as people flee Eastern Ghouta on 15 March (Reuters)
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Saturday 17 March 2018 11:24 UTC
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Air strikes on Eastern Ghouta killed at least 30 civilians on Saturday, a monitor said, almost a month into a blistering Russia-backed regime assault on the Syrian rebel enclave outside Damascus, while another 150,000 are reported to have fled Afrin in northern Syria since Wednesday amid a Turkish assault.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights could not say who carried out the strikes on the town of Zamalka in a southern pocket of the Ghouta enclave.

Regime forces have retaken 70 percent of the last rebel bastion on the outskirts of the capital since 18 February, carving it up into three shrinking pockets held by different rebels.

"Warplanes targeted civilians in Zamalka as they prepared to flee" the southern area of the enclave held by the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The regime assault has killed more than 1,390 civilians in the enclave, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground.

The offensive has pushed thousands more to flee their homes into government-controlled areas.

On Saturday morning, "around 10,000 civilians streamed out of the rebel enclave into regime-held areas," Abdel Rahman said.

Syria’s conflict marked seven years this week, having killed hundreds of thousands and displaced at least 11 million more, including nearly 6 million who have fled abroad in one of the worst refugee crises of modern times.

Afrin exodus

Meanwhile, more than 150,000 civilians have fled the city of Afrin in northern Syria since Wednesday evening to escape a Turkish-led military offensive against a Kurdish militia, a war monitor said on Saturday.

"There was fierce fighting throughout the night on the northern outskirts of the city as the Turkish forces and their Syrian allies tried to break into the city," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.



Civilians fleeing the city of Afrin in northern Syria walk at the mountainous road of al-Ahlam while heading towards the check point in az-Ziyarah on March 16 (AFP)

Turkey and its Syrian Arab rebel allies have waged a nearly two-month offensive on the Afrin enclave, which is held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Earlier this week, they largely surrounded the enclave's sole city, which was home to some 350,000 people, including people displaced from other parts of the enclave already overrun.

A single escape route remains open to the south to territory still held by the YPG or controlled by the Damascus government.

"Civilians are fleeing through the southern corridor," the Observatory's Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Hevi Mustafa, a top member of the civil authority governing the Afrin region, said people were fleeing the main town to other Kurdish-held parts of the region and to government territory.

Afrin has come under heavy air and artillery bombardment by the Turkish army.

On Friday evening, a Turkish bombing raid struck the city's main hospital, killing 16 civilians, the Observatory said.

Turkey's military denied hitting the hospital, saying that its operation in Afrin "is carried out in such a way as to not cause any harm to civilians".