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Tens of Thousands Flee Syria’s Eastern Ghouta and Afrin


This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian civilians with their belongings, fleeing from fighting between the Syrian government forces and rebels, in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, March. 15, 2018.

Thousands of men, women and children fled Syria’s eastern Ghouta region Thursday.

With their belongings packed on their backs, held in their hands, bound to bicycles or loaded into pick-up trucks, the war-weary sought an escape.

Rebels have held the eastern Ghouta region since 2012, but now Syrian troops are in control of most of the area after repeated shelling and air strikes.

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Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in a statement that his recent trip to Syria “reinforces my view that wars across the region have reached a frightening new normal.” He added, “Too often destruction seems to be the goal as the basic standards of humanity are ignored.”

The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said Thursday’s exodus of people from the besieged area near Damascus was the largest since government forces launched a campaign to recapture it last month.

After the Syrian army opened a corridor following a late-night advance, the civilians were seen fleeing to an area held by the Syrian government on foot, in cars and on motorcycles.

The Observatory said hundreds of families have also left the town of Afrin, headed toward villages held by pro-government forces. They are fleeing a Turkish military offensive against Syrian-Kurdish forces.

Earlier this week, scores of wounded and sick people were evacuated from eastern Ghouta, which has been divided into three encircled areas by the government offensive.

Twenty-five trucks hauling humanitarian aid entered the northern rebel-held area and were headed to the town of Douma, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

Buildings destroyed during various Syrian government bombardments are seen in the rebel-held town of Hamouria in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus, March 13, 2018.
Buildings destroyed during various Syrian government bombardments are seen in the rebel-held town of Hamouria in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus, March 13, 2018.

The ICRC added the convoy was transporting enough food aid for 26,100 people for one month and other items as well.

Russia and Syria have said their forces only target armed militants and try to halt insurgent mortar attacks that have killed dozens of people in the area.The two countries have blamed the rebels of using civilians as human shields, an accusation the insurgents have denied.

Amnesty International, however, accused the Syrian and Russian governments and other participants in the war Thursday of failing to end “the suffering of millions of Syrians” and to stop attacks on civilians in eastern Ghouta and Afrin.

“The international community’s catastrophic failure to take concrete action to protect the people of Syria has allowed parties to the conflict, most notably the Syrian government, to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity with complete impunity, often with assistance of outside powers, particularly Russia,” Amnesty’s Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf said in a statement issued on the seventh anniversary of the Syrian Civil war.

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian civilians, who fled fighting between the Syrian government forces and rebels, at an army checkpoint, in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, March 13, 2018.
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian civilians, who fled fighting between the Syrian government forces and rebels, at an army checkpoint, in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, March 13, 2018.

The human rights group said 400,000 civilians in eastern Ghouta “are being starved and indiscriminately bombed by the Syrian government with the backing of Russia.”

Opposition groups have responded by ‘Indiscriminately shelling” two villages in the northwestern Syrian city of Idleb, Amnesty said, and added hundreds of Syrian Kurds have fled Afrin to escape attacks by the Turkish government and opposition groups.

Amnesty called on the United Nations Security Council to “enforce its resolutions which call for an end to unlawful sieges and attacks.” The group also urged the council to refer those responsible for “war crimes and crimes against humanity” to the International Criminal Court.

Additionally, the rights group requested that all parties involved in the war to obey international law by allowing civilians who want to flee the area to leave freely and to provide unrestricted access to humanitarian aid.

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