Estimated 14,000 flee East Ghouta this week amid pro-Assad bombardment; about 50,000 have left Afrin canton amid Turkish-rebel offensive
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UPDATE 1800 GMT: The UN humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Jan Egeland, writes:
We receive harrowing reports from civilians in Eastern Ghouta. They say there is no escape from intense bombardment & cross-fire. A Truce is needed now. Gov’t forces with Russia & Iran, are accountable for protecting civilians & NGO workers. AOGs must allow civilians to leave.
— Jan Egeland (@NRC_Egeland) March 17, 2018
UPDATE 1130 GMT: The BBC’s Riam Dalati reports that Kafr Batna, where scores of people were burned to death by attacks on Friday, has been overrun by pro-Assad forces.
#Kafarbatna has fallen. Regime almost in complete control of town. Another exodus being reported.
— Riam Dalati (@Dalatrm) March 17, 2018
Thousands of residents have fled their homes in both East Ghouta, near Syria’s capital Damascus, and in the Kurdish canton of Afrin in the northwest of the country.
Civilians in East Ghouta, which has endured a five-year bombardment and siege, have been displaced by a pro-Assad offensive which has taken more than half the opposition enclave while killing more than 1,500 people and wounding thousands since early February.
The departures from Afrin have been forced by a Turkish-rebel ground offensive, begun on January 20, which has taken most of the canton and now surrounds Afrin city, cut off from water for more than week.
In the latest wave of assaults on East Ghouta, the Assad regime and foreign allies have killed up to 77 civilians on Friday. Many of the casualties were in Kafr Batna, where people were burned to death by shelling and bombing. Attacks were also reported on Hazza and Zamalka.
The UN estimated that 12,000 to 16,000 people have left East Ghouta this week, with many others — in an area which had more than 350,000 residents before the latest pro-Assad offensive — moved deeper into the enclave.
Syrian State media and pro-Assad outlets have not mentioned the mass killing of civilians, instead portraying the flight as people welcoming their movement into regime territory. The outlets have also not spoken of people who have moved further into East Ghouta rather than towards pro-Assad lines.
The rebel factions Jaish al-Islam, Failaq al-Rahman, and Ahrar al-Sham said in a statement that they are ready to enter into direct negotiations with Russia, in Geneva under UN auspices, but not for a surrender.
Instead, the factions said they are seeking full implementation of UN resolutions for a ceasefire while maintaining “our right to defend our people” and “our rejection of forced displacement” and ensuring aid for civilians.
UN: Almost 50,000 Displaced in Afrin
In northwest Syria, thousands of people reportedly left Afrin city as Turkish forces and rebels began attacks in preparation for possible movement into the center of the canton.
The Kurdish militia YPG claimed that more than 40 civilians, including children, were killed on Friday by shelling.
Linda Tom, a UN humanitarian spokeswoman in Syria, estimated that 48,000 people have now moved out of the Afrin canton as the Turkish-rebel advance has reduced the Kurdish control to Afrin city and a small nearby area.
The Turkish-rebel force has secured all of northwest Syria on the border and the other towns in the canton, including Rajo and Jinderes.
Claimed video of damaged buildings in Afrin: