160,000 civilians flee new Syrian carnage


Tens of thousands of civilians fled their homes and streamed out of their towns on Saturday to escape battles in the north and south of Syria.

A new wave of at least 10,000 people left the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus as Assad regime airstrikes continued to pound the besieged zone.

In the northern Afrin region, more than 150,000 people have fled the main town in the past few days as the frontlines close in on their homes and bombs rain down from Turkish jets.

The two offensives — one by the Syrian army with Russia’s support, and another led by Turkey with its allied Syrian opposition — have now entered decisive phases.

Regime forces have splintered Ghouta into three zones in one of the bloodiest offensives of the seven-year war. For the first time, residents began running in their thousands out of the southern pocket, around the town of Hammuriyeh.

Men, women, and children crossed the front by foot along a dirt road, staggering under the weight of bags and suitcases. Many carried infants on their shoulders or pushed them in prams. Some elderly people hobbled on wooden sticks.

As the civilians fled, Assad regime airstrikes on Zamalka killed 30 people gathering to leave for regime lines, and jets also pounded the towns of Kafr Batna and Ain Tarma.

In Afrin, Turkey’s military has pushed Kurdish YPG militia back from the border and advanced on the western and eastern flanks of Afrin town.

Ankara sees the Kurdish forces as an extension of the outlawed Kurdish PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey.

Turkish air and artillery strikes rained down overnight and in recent days, driving tens of thousands out of the main town. Hevi Mustafa, a senior member of the civil authority that governs Afrin, said people fled to other Kurdish-held parts of the region and to government territory.

“The situation is tragic for the people inside,” she said. “And the displaced outside Afrin are out in the open without refuge or food.”

In Riyadh, the head of Syria’s main opposition group blamed the UN for failing to prevent violence raging throughout Syria.

“We hold the United Nations, the Security Council and the international community … directly responsible for their silence around these crimes and for failing to take action to prevent these crimes,” said Nasr Al-Hariri, president of the Syrian Negotiation Commission.

“But let us not forget that the parties that hold direct responsibility for the crimes are the Syrian regime and the countries that continue to stand by it.”

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