Syrians flee battles near Damascus, northern Kurdish enclave

What next for rebels civilians in Syria's crumbling Ghouta

Air strikes killed dozens of civilians in Eastern Ghouta on Saturday and forced thousands more to flee, as Syrian troops pressed their blistering assault on the last rebel stronghold near Damascus.

For the first time in the month since the government unleashed the Ghouta offensive, one of the deadliest of the war, residents are fleeing in their thousands, carrying children and belongings on foot to government positions.

Head of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) warned on Saturday of the possibility of a genocide being committed against trapped civilians in the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta that has come in recent weeks under a brutal regime offensive.

Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that some 3,000 people have been leaving every hour Saturday through a government-run humanitarian corridor monitored by the Russian military.

In a statement, the general command of the Syrian army said tens of towns in the Eastern Ghouta countryside of Damascus have been recaptured by the Syrian army.

Families prepare to board Syrian Red Crescent buses evacuating humanitarian cases from Douma in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

Government forces seized Kafr Batna and Sabqa in the south of the enclave, the Observatory said, as thousands of civilians fled into government-held territory.

The UN said it was anxious the forces staying inside were not allowing civilians to flee, as that would leave them more exposed to Turkey's superior firepower.

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Yesterday, rebel artillery fire killed one person in the capital, the Observatory said.

Yesterday, a Turkish air strike killed 11 civilians in the city as they tried to leave, it said.

A spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it had received "deeply alarming reports from Afrin in northwestern Syria about civilian deaths and injuries due to airstrikes and ground-based strikes, as well as reports that civilians are being prevented from leaving Afrin city by Kurdish forces".

The spokesman for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Turkey expected its forces and rebel allies to clear Afrin town of militants "very soon".

The monitor said a Turkish strike on Friday hit Afrin's hospital, killing 16 civilians, including two pregnant women.

Turkey and its Syrian Arab rebel allies have waged a almost two-month offensive on the Afrin enclave, which is held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

"There are a lot of people leaving the city as well, and a lot still inside", he said.

Turkey says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

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