Syria: 40 civilians killed in airstrikes as thousands flee Eastern Ghouta

By Sara Shayanian  |  March 16, 2018 at 12:55 PM
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March 16 (UPI) -- Civilians were killed in airstrikes in the Kafr Batna district in Syria on Friday amid a mass exodus from rebel-held areas.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 41 civilians, including six children, were killed on Friday. The Britain-based human rights group said more than 25 raids targeted places in Saqba, Ein Tarma, Kafr Batna and Hazza.

As the air strikes continued, an estimated 2,000 more people fled from rebel-held areas after it was reported that between 12,000 and 13,000 people had already left Damascus overnight and into Friday morning.

On Thursday, thousands fled the enclave of Eastern Ghouta as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government forces advanced into rebel-held areas -- making it the largest mass displacement in the enclave since regime forces and their allies first began their siege of the area in 2013.

Since Feb. 18, the human rights group estimated 1272 civilians, including 252 children and 171 women, had been killed by aerial, rocket and artillery shelling on Syrian cities and towns.

According to United Nations spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, along with Eastern Ghouta, the Kurdish-held town of Afrin is now among the "worsening flashpoints" in Syria.

"We have been receiving deeply alarming reports from Afrin in Syria about civilian deaths and injuries due to airstrikes and ground-based strikes," Shamdasani said Friday. "There is also a severe water shortage due to the reported destruction of a pumping station as well as the control of other water resources by Turkish-led forces."

Shamdasani added that the only hospital in the area, Afrin Hospital, is overwhelmed by the influx of wounded people.

The United Nations Children's Fund reported that Afrin has suffered from severe water shortages, with families relying on untreated water that could increase the risk of diseases for up to 250,000 people.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a separate statement Friday that he was "deeply concerned" by the desperation of those fleeing in a mass exodus from Eastern Ghouta and Afrin.

"I urge all parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian and human rights law and guarantee the protection of civilians," Guterres said. "The United Nations and its partners are fully mobilized to bring immediate life-saving relief to all those in need."

Meanwhile, foreign ministers from Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Astana, Kazakhstan, to address the situation in Syria on Friday.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Russian and Turkish counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Mevlut Carusoglu issued a joint statement after the meeting to reaffirm the "strong and continued commitment to the sovereignty and independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic."

Presidents from the three countries are expected to speak about Syria again during a summit on April 4, with the situation in Eastern Ghouta expected to take center stage in the talks.

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