Syrian army begins storming two key militant strongholds in Damascus

Cheryl Sanders
March 18, 2018

The latest reported deaths brought the toll for the almost month-old offensive to 1,350.

Tens of thousands have taken to the roads with their belongings, as Russia-backed regime fighters push deeper into rebel Eastern Ghouta outside the capital and Turkey-led forces press an assault in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Thousands of civilians have fled the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, in what is believed to be the largest exodus in one day in the country's seven-year war, as deadly air strikes continue.

The warplanes reportedly carried out more than 20 raids on areas in the town of Harasta.

More than 40,000 civilians have poured out of the enclave since Thursday morning, fleeing bombardment and advancing troops.

"Those of us who were in the cellar got together and chose to leave, whatever the cost", the 40-year-old said.

In a regime-held area just outside Afrin, Syrians who had fled their homes were sleeping in mosques and schools - some even in shops, a displaced person there said.

Despite mild temperatures, majority were wearing several layers of heavy winter clothes, the same they had kept on for weeks in their freezing basements. "They can't explain why they are uncomfortable with Turkey's fight against terrorism, neither to us nor to the world", Yildirim said.

Those three Islamist groups said Friday they would be willing to negotiate directly with Russian Federation on a ceasefire for Ghouta, but did not mention talks with the Syrian government. "Bodies were everywhere", she said.

The Syrian government has already condemned the Turkish offensive against Afrin as an act of aggression.

Government airstrikes on a rebel-held town east of the capital Damascus killed dozens and wounded scores on Friday, opposition activists said, as thousands of people left the besieged areas known as eastern Ghouta. "But we carry out it with great care for civilians so that they are not harmed", Yildirim said.

The Observatory said air strikes in eastern Ghouta killed 80 people, including 14 children, in the towns of Kafr Batna, Saqba and Harasta on Friday.

The Kurdish Red Crescent medical service, which supports the hospital, confirmed to AFP the hospital was hit but did not give a toll.

On Saturday, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey-backed militias had surrounded Afrin city center in northwestern Syria and were ready to enter at any moment, Anadolu Agency reported.

The weekslong violence has left more than 1,300 civilians dead and 5,000 wounded.

"We have been receiving deeply alarming reports from Afrin in Syria about civilian deaths and injuries due to airstrikes and ground-based strikes", Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

The forces reached Afrin city's border last week and encircled it.

Other reports by iNewsToday