In Syria, At Least 100 Killed In Attacks As More People Flee


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.

Syria state television broadcast photos of the president dressed in a shirt and jacket surrounded by soldiers, some perched on a tank behind him, in an unspecified part of Eastern Ghouta.

Also on Sunday, state TV said the Syrian army had given a group of rebels in another pocket, the smaller Harasta area, an ultimatum to withdraw.

"We are engaged in arranging serious negotiations to guarantee the safety and protection of civilians", said Wael Alwan, the Istanbul-based spokesman for Failaq al-Rahman, in a voice recording. The weekslong violence left more than 1,300 civilians dead, 5,000 wounded and forced thousands to flee to government-controlled areas.

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Thousands of civilians streamed out of their towns on Saturday to escape battles in the north and south of Syria, where two different offensives have prompted an exodus in recent days.

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

Four major rebel groups are now positioned inside Eastern Ghouta, namely the Islam Army, Failaq al-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham and the Levant Liberation Committee.

The Turkish military denied on Saturday that it had struck a hospital in Afrin, where it has waged an offensive since January against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia that controls the region.

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The War Media, the media wing of the Syrian army, said the Syrian government forces have so far captured 80 percent of Eastern Ghouta, as the troops captured the town of Saqba on Sunday and are advancing toward Kafar Batna town.

Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin is quoted by Russian news agencies as saying they left Sunday through the town of Hamouria.

On another front, Turkish and allied rebel forces shelled the northern Kurdish-held town of Afrin heavily, killing at least 27 people and forcing 2500 people to flee, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.

The military tweeted aerial footage and photographs of the town's general hospital from Saturday morning, showing it was intact.

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He said the center is distributing bedding and food to those fleeing, who are being forced into government-held regions.