Thousands flee Syria onslaught as death toll passes 100
More than 100 civilians have been killed in government, Russian, and Turkish air strikes and shelling on towns inside Syria, according to a monitoring group, as tens of thousands flee the violence.The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government and Russian forces have been bombing rebel-held areas outside Damascus throughout Friday, killing 64 people …
More than 100 civilians have been killed in government, Russian, and Turkish air strikes and shelling on towns inside Syria, according to a monitoring group, as tens of thousands flee the violence.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government and Russian forces have been bombing rebel-held areas outside Damascus throughout Friday, killing 64 people in Kafr Batna and 12 in Saqba.
The Syrian Civil Defence search-and-rescue group reported 61 fatalities in Kafr Batna.
The Syrian government is determined to seize Kafr Batna, Saqba and the rest of the besieged eastern Ghouta region from rebels after seven years of war.
The Observatory said Turkish shelling and air strikes have killed another 27 people in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in northern Syria.
Turkey is waging a war on a Syrian Kurdish militia that controls Afrin and the surrounding region.
Syria’s UN ambassador said more than 40,000 civilians left the rebel-held Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta in a single day through a new security corridor opened by the government in the city of Hamouria.
Bashar Ja’afari told the UN Security Council that following the government takeover of Hamouria from “terrorists” on Thursday officials were assisting the evacuation of civilians “who were taken as human shields by terrorist groups”.
He said the government and Syrian Red Crescent were co-ordinating to facilitate the safe transport of people from eastern Ghouta “to temporary shelters that are equipped with all the necessary equipment”.
Mr Ja’afari said the government will allow convoys with medical supplies and other aid into the area “if the security circumstances allow”.
He accused the UN and other governments of doing nothing to alleviate the suffering “of tens of thousands of people who have tried to flee terrorism”.
The Syrian military said its armed forces have captured and cleared dozens of villages, towns and farms east of the capital Damascus consisting of about 70% of eastern Ghouta.
Syrian troops have been on the offensive in the area for three weeks, a campaign that has killed 1,300 civilians.
A statement read by Brigadier General Ali Mayhoub said military operations were “swift and decisive”.
It added that Syrian armed forces opened two safe corridors and managed to secure the evacuation of thousands of civilians, who were held “by terrorist groups as human shields”.
It called upon all residents of eastern Ghouta to leave the area and go to government-controlled parts of the country.
#Syria #Afrin: We've received alarming reports about civilian casualties due to ground/air strikes. All parties to the conflict must allow civilians to safely leave combat areas & ensure the protection of those who remain. https://t.co/FggAn5nzNk pic.twitter.com/iLKONYiwwg— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) March 16, 2018
The UN envoy for Syria said that despite a six-day ceasefire holding in the city of Douma, violence has escalated elsewhere in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus and across many other parts of Syria “where there is no ceasefire to speak of”.
Staffan de Mistura said Turkish government forces and their allies “continue to take ground rapidly” in Afrin, and there are reports of shelling on opposition-besieged Foua and Kefrya, air strikes in Idlib and a new opposition offensive in Hama, as well as clashes and air strikes in Daraa in southern Syria.
Borrowing UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s words, he reiterated that in eastern Ghouta “people are still living in a hell on earth”.
I am deeply concerned by the desperation of the people fleeing from Eastern Ghouta and Afrin in Syria. The UN and its partners are ready to bring life-saving aid to all those in need. We must have safe and unimpeded humanitarian access. https://t.co/vfyzLHMBL1— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) March 16, 2018
Mr de Mistura told the UN Security Council in a video briefing that there are “fresh allegations of use of incendiary weapons against civilians in urban areas as well as fresh and disturbing allegations of chlorine use in these areas”.
He said the UN cannot confirm the reports “but we cannot and should not ignore them”.
He urged faster movement “with more impact” to implement the council’s demand for a ceasefire throughout Syria and to establish a committee to draft a new constitution for Syria, saying the government must engage and be part of the process.