More than 200000 civilians flee Syria's Afrin in three days: monitor


Another deadly offensive is unfolding in the north, where Turkish-led forces pressed a ground and air operation to seize the Kurdish-held region of Afrin.

Most of the deaths Friday occurred in eastern suburbs of Damascus, known as eastern Ghouta, where government forces have been on a crushing offensive for three weeks - capturing 70 percent of the once-besieged rebel-held area.

Russian news agency TASS quoted Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying on Friday, "Reports from the British Syrian Observatory For Human Rights citing anonymous "activists" from the village of Kafer Batna about alleged Russian airstrikes in Eastern Ghouta are yet another fake".

A reporter in the town contributing to AFP saw eight charred bodies in the streets and said wounded people were left in the roads as rescue centres had been put out of service by bombing.

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The capture of Kafr Batna and parts of nearby Saqba is another blow to opposition fighters who have lost more than 70 percent of the area known as eastern Ghouta since the President Bashar Assad's forces began a crushing offensive under the cover of airstrikes on February 18. "Women and children are on the floor", Abu Khaled, 35, who used to run a clothing shop in Ghouta told AFP.

The United Nations has warned of a malnutrition crisis in eastern Ghouta, which human rights groups have blamed on the government's strangling blockade.

He said mopping operations are underway and the Turkish flag has been raised in the town that sits less than 50 kilometers from the Turkish border.

It launched an offensive against the town and surrounding areas on January 20, slowly squeezing the militia and hundreds of thousands of civilians into the town center.

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In northwestern Syria meanwhile, more than 200,000 civilians have fled the Kurdish-majority city of Afrin in less than three days, according to the monitor.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN's Rights Office, decried "reports that civilians are being prevented from leaving Afrin city by Kurdish forces". It started a push to take control of Afrin on Monday, raising concerns that intensifying fighting could kill or injure more civilians.

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.

"There was an air strike on Afrin's general hospital, it's the only big hospital", said Rojhat Roj, a YPG media official in Afrin.

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Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Russian military and the Syrian government would extend the "cease-fire" in Damascus' rebel-held suburbs for as long as it takes to allow all civilians to leave the area.