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

Syrian official news agency SANA civilians carry their belongings as they flee from fighting between Syrian government

The Observatory said that almost 200,000 people have fled the region of Afrin in recent days and entered government-controlled areas nearby, adding that 11 people were killed Saturday when a shell hit a truck carrying fleeing people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government and Russian forces bombed rebel areas outside Damascus throughout Friday, killing 64 people in Kafr Batna and another 12 in Saqba.

Turkey claims to have encircled Afrin, trapping up to 200,000 civilians in the majority-Kurdish city, Ahval reports with a reference to British liberal newspaper The Guardian. Oways al-Shami, a spokesman for Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said he expected the toll to rise further.

He added that some 300,000 people are still besieged in eastern Ghouta, left to choose between "dying under fire or surrendering and go to Assad's jails and slaughterhouses".

Russian Federation said the number of people who left Thursday exceeded 12,000, while Syria's United Nations ambassador said Friday that 40,000 had left all of eastern Ghouta and were transported to temporary shelters, where they were provided with assistance.

Thousands of people left eastern Ghouta on Saturday alone as government forces stepped up an offensive on the rebel enclave, according to Syrian and Russian officials.

In their latest advances Saturday pro-government forces took control of the two towns of Kafr Batna and Sabqa in the southern pocket held by the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group, the monitor said.

The Kurdish YPG militia, defending Afrin, said it was battling the Turkish forces and their Syrian militia allies who tried to storm the town from the north.

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

Syrian opposition activists are reporting that dozens of people were killed and scores wounded when an airstrike hit a rebel-held town east of the capital Damascus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday Ghouta rebels were planning to stage a chemical attack to give the US-led coalition the pretext to strike Damascus.

An army officer in charge of arrivals in Adra said authorities had dispersed 25,000 people in recent days across temporary shelters there and in two nearby towns.

The UN urged conflicting parties to "take all feasible precautions to avoid loss of civilian lives, and where there have been reports of civilian casualties, these must be promptly and effectively investigated".

The Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army have liberated seven settlements as part of the Operation Olive Branch on March 17, Turkish media reported referring to military sources.

Since their January offensive began, Turkish forces have almost encircled Afrin as they press their campaign to drive the Syrian Kurdish fighters from the town and surrounding region, where tens of thousands of civilians are still believed trapped. "We are nearing the end in Afrin", he said. Residents say they are facing bread, water, and electricity shortages.

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