Thousands more Syrians flee their homes as two battles rage

Marsha Scott
March 19, 2018

Thousands of people left eastern Ghouta on Saturday alone as government forces stepped up an offensive on the rebel enclave, according to Syrian and Russian officials.

Air strikes on eastern Ghouta killed over 30 civilians on Saturday, a monitor said, nearly a month into a blistering Russia-backed regime assault on the Syrian rebel enclave outside Damascus.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Oways al-Shami of the Syrian Civil Defense said troops have taken Kafr Batna and large parts of nearby Saqba.

The Syrian army says the armed forces have captured and cleared dozens of villages, towns and farms east of the capital Damascus consisting of about 70 percent of eastern Ghouta.

"This is not new for the people of Eastern Ghouta: people who've been trapped in a cruel siege for almost six years are now being attacked daily, killed and maimed by their government".

"For eight days, we have coordinated with the soldiers, telling them we want to get the civilians out", he said.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group made mostly of ex-members of a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, also has a presence in Eastern Ghouta but is not a signatory to the statement.

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According to Syria's United Nations ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, more than 40,000 civilians left eastern Ghouta in a single day through a new security corridor opened by the government in the city of Hamouria.

Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, launched an operation in January targeting Kurdish groups - some of them backed by the United States - in Afrin province to clear the border area of militias it considers to be terrorist organizations. "The situation is tragic for the people inside", she said.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said the army has declared a 24-hour cease-fire in Harasta starting Saturday afternoon in order to allow civilians to leave the area.

The violence came as thousands of people left eastern Ghouta and entered government-held parts of the region on Saturday, bringing to 47,000 the number of people who left the area over the past three days, according to Russia's Defense Ministry.

Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on Friday said that the selling of weapons to the parties to the Syrian conflict should be stopped. Humanitarian aid must be allowed into Eastern Ghouta.

"The fighters who are obviously holed up in a corner are using all means at their disposal, including preventing civilians from leaving them to defend their position".

Around 35,000 left from the city of Afrin and a further 13,000 from surrounding areas, Geekie said.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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