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Mass Exodus in Syria’s Afrin as Turkish Offensive Continues


People sit atop a trailer with their belongings fleeing a Turkish offensive in Syria's Afrin region, March 15, 2018.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that more than 150,000 Afrin residents have been displaced since Wednesday as Turkish warplanes and artillery are reported to have struck the northern Syrian region overnight.

The U.N. secretary-general said Friday he is “deeply concerned” about Syrians fleeing in a mass exodus from Afrin and another rebel-held enclave, eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus.

“I profoundly regret that resolution 2401, concerning the cessation of hostilities throughout Syria, has not been implemented,” Antonio Guterres said of the Security Council’s unanimous March 4 decision that has failed to deescalate the violence.

“The United Nations and its partners are fully mobilized to bring immediate life-saving relief to all those in need,” Guterres said in a statement. “I call on all parties to ensure safe and unimpeded humanitarian access in all areas.”

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'Alarming reports'

The U.N. Human Rights Office warned Friday that it has received “alarming reports” from the northwestern town of Afrin, where Turkish forces are battling Kurdish fighters. Civilians there are reportedly being prevented from leaving the town by Kurdish forces.

“We have received reports that only those civilians who have contacts within the Kurdish authority or the Kurdish armed forces have been able to leave,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said. She noted that even those that could leave faced grave dangers as they exited and then had to pay government-backed armed groups to let them leave Afrin.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says it has finalized plans to assist as many as 50,000 people fleeing the opposition district of eastern Ghouta, which the Syrian government has been fighting to recapture since last month.

"We have been working, planning to respond to evacuations for a while and specifically to provide shelters with emergency assistance," Marixie Mercado told reporters in Geneva.

FILE - A child sleeps in a bag in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria, March 15, 2018.
FILE - A child sleeps in a bag in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria, March 15, 2018.

Airstrikes continued for a second day Friday in the area, killing dozens of people.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director said thousands of civilians had fled eastern Ghouta’s town of Hammouriyeh on Thursday. Russia said the number of people who left Thursday exceeded 12,000, while Syria’s U.N. ambassador said Friday that 40,000 had left all of eastern Ghouta and were transported to temporary shelters, where they were provided with assistance.

International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer accompanied an aid convoy into eastern Ghouta on Thursday. The 25-truck inter-agency convoy carried a month’s worth of assistance for the 26,100 residents of Douma.

“The people I have met are exhausted,” Maurer said afterwards. “Exhausted from bombs and rockets dropping on civilian neighborhoods; exhausted from not knowing details about missing or detained family members.”usands of civilians had fled eastern Ghouta's town of Hammouriyeh on Thursday. Russia said the number of people who left Thursday exceeded 12,000, while Syria's U.N. ambassador said Friday that 40,000 had left all of eastern Ghouta and were transported to temporary shelters, where they were provided with assistance.

Aid for Douma

International Committee of the Red Cross president Peter Maurer accompanied an aid convoy into eastern Ghouta on Thursday. The 25-truck interagency convoy carried a month's worth of assistance for the 26,100 residents of Douma.

"The people I have met are exhausted," Maurer said afterward. "Exhausted from bombs and rockets dropping on civilian neighborhoods; exhausted from not knowing details about missing or detained family members."

VOA's Margaret Besheer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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