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Thousands flee Syria's eastern Ghouta and Afrin

March 17, 2018

Russian- and Turkish-backed offensives at two separate locations in Syria have caused tens of thousands of civilians to leave their homes in search of safety. The eight-year Syrian war shows no signs of abating.

Turkish armored vehicles near central Afrin in Syria
Image: picture-alliance/Photoshot

Thousands of civilians fled their homes in Syria on Friday as separate offensives near the capital, Damascus, and in the northern city of Afrin intensified.

More than 2,400 civilians left eastern Ghouta east of Damascus as government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and backed by Russia and Iran pushed further into the rebel-held enclave. More than 12,000 people had evacuated the area on Thursday.

Russian airstrikes on Friday killed at least 80 civilians, including 14 children, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Around 1,350 people have died in eastern Ghouta since the offensive began in mid-February. The UN estimates that up to 400,000 people are still trapped in the area.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the UN was ready to bring humanitarian aid to those in need as soon as warring parties provided access.

Read more: Which rebel groups are fighting in Syria's eastern Ghouta?

Map of controlled areas in Syria
The Syrian government's offensive is centered on eastern Ghouta near Damascus

Three Islamist zones

The government said it had retaken around 70 percent of eastern Ghouta, which had been under rebel control.

The offensive has split eastern Ghouta into three zones, each controlled by a different Islamist group.

All three said in a joint statement they would enter ceasefire talks for the area with Russia in Geneva, but Moscow, they said, refused the offer.

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

Anguish in Afrin

In northern Syria, thousands of civilians fled Afrin as Turkish-backed forces continued to fight Syrian Kurdish forces trapped in the city.

Around 15,000 people fled on Friday after more than 30,000 left the city on Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The monitor said bombing of the city killed 43 civilians, including 16 in a Turkish strike against a hospital.

The UN's humanitarian spokeswoman in Syria, Linda Tom, said Turkey's incursion into the region around Afrin has displaced more than 48,000 since it began in mid-January.

Turkey wants to defeat US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, which it has said are linked to the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), a Turkish-based group that has fought an insurgency against Ankara.

Read more: Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

Eight years of despair

More than half a million people have died and 11 million have been driven from their homes since the Syrian war began in 2011.

Foreign governments have entered on different sides of the conflict, with Russia's intervention in 2015 credited with gradually turning the tide of the war in favor of Assad.

Read more: Opinion: The twisted logic of the war in Syria

amp/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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