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Syria Says Over 40,000 Have Left Ghouta

BEIRUT — The Latest on developments in Syria’s seven-year civil war (all times local):

6:05 p.m.

Syria’s U.N. ambassador says more than 40,000 civilians left the rebel-held Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta in a single day through a new security corridor opened by the government in the city of Hamouria.

Bashar Ja’afari told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that following the government takeover of Hamouria from “terrorists” on Thursday the government was assisting the evacuation of civilians “who were taken as human shields by terrorist groups.”

He said the government and Syrian Red Crescent were coordinating to facilitate the safe transport of people from eastern Ghouta “to temporary shelters that are equipped with all the necessary equipment.”

Ja’afari said the government will allow convoys with medical supplies and other aid into the area “if the security circumstances allow.”

He accused the U.N. and other governments of doing nothing to alleviate the suffering “of tens of thousands of people who have tried to flee terrorism.”

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5:45 p.m.

A Syrian monitoring group says more than 100 civilians have been killed in government, Russian, and Turkish airstrikes and shelling on towns inside Syria.

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

The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group reported 61 fatalities in Kafr Batna.

The Syrian government is determined to seize Kafr Batna, Saqba, and the rest of the besieged eastern Ghouta region from rebels, after 7 years of war.

The Observatory says Turkish shelling and airstrikes have killed another 27 people in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin, in north Syria.

Turkey is waging a war on a Syrian Kurdish militia that controls Afrin and the surrounding region.

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5:30 p.m.

Syrian state media is reporting that government forces have captured a town on the southern edge of rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops captured Jisreen on Friday after battles with opposition gunmen.

The capture of Jisreen brings government forces closer to the rebel strongholds of Saqba and Kafr Batna where dozens of people were killed in airstrikes earlier Friday.

Syrian government forces have captured more than half of the area known as eastern Ghouta and have cut it into three parts over the past three weeks.

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3:15 p.m.

A U.N. spokeswoman says the world body is receiving “deeply alarming” reports from the Kurdish enclave of Afrin about civilian deaths and injuries due to airstrikes and ground-based strikes.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, added in a statement Friday it is also getting reports that civilians are being prevented from leaving the area by Kurdish fighters.

Shamdasani said hundreds of thousands of civilians are at risk, including those recently displaced from other areas captured by Turkish-led forces.

She said that the humanitarian situation is reportedly worsening, “with tremendous pressure on Afrin hospital – the only medical facility equipped for major operations.”

She said parties to the conflict should must allow civilians to leave and take precautions to avoid loss of civilian lives.

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1:50 p.m.

A Syrian war monitoring group says Russian and Syrian government airstrikes on a town in the besieged eastern Ghouta enclave, just outside of Damascus, have killed 46 people.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the town of Kafr Batna was hit with cluster munitions, napalm-like incendiary weapons, and conventional explosives on Friday.

Government forces are advancing on towns inside the rebel-held enclave, prompting a massive exodus of civilians.

A medical charity supporting hospitals in the Ghouta region, the Syrian American Medical Society, says doctors in Kafr Batna are treating patients for severe burn wounds. The charity says it recorded 40 casualties on Friday.

The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group says it has identified 42 bodies so far. It says the streets are strewn with body parts and that it expects the death toll to rise.

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12:30 p.m.

Syrian Kurdish forces say that Turkish shelling and airstrikes in the northern Syrian town of Afrin have killed at least 20 civilians.

Redur Khalil, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, also says 30 people have been wounded as Turkish forces shelled the Ashrafieh neighborhood of the town on Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitors put the death toll at 18. It released a video showing four lifeless bodies lying on the streets of Afrin.

Turkish forces have nearly encircled Afrin in an effort to drive out Kurdish fighters from the town and the surrounding region. Residents say they are facing bread, water, and electricity shortages.

Hundreds of civilians were seen leaving the town to neighboring villages on Thursday looking for relief. Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to still be inside.

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11:40 a.m.

Turkey’s military says it’s dropped flyers in Arabic and Kurdish on the northern Syrian town of Afrin, asking residents to stay away from “terrorist positions” and urging Syrian Kurdish militiamen to surrender.

The fliers were dropped on Friday as Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters press Ankara’s seven-week offensive to drive Syrian Kurdish forces from the enclave of Afrin and its main town of the same name.

The leaflets say Afrin civilians wanting to leave would be “under the guarantee” of the Turkish military. They also call on locals not to allow themselves to be used as “human shields.”

The leaflets urge Syrian Kurdish fighters to “trust the hand we extend to you.” They say: “Come surrender! A calm and peaceful future awaits you in Afrin.”

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10:05 a.m.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the Russian military and the Syrian government are extending a cease-fire in Damascus’ rebel-held suburbs as long as it takes to allow all the civilians to leave the area.

Lavrov spoke in Kazakhstan on Friday, saying the cease-fire will be extended “until all (civilians) leave” the enclave known as eastern Ghouta.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that 2,000 people had exited the rebel-held suburbs by early morning.

Thursday saw the largest single-day exodus of civilians in Syria’s civil war. Tens of thousands emerged from Hamouria and other opposition towns to escape the onslaught.

The civilians were fleeing as Syrian government troops, backed by Russian aircraft, pushed further into eastern Ghouta.

Elsewhere, Turkish forces are pushing their way into the northern Kurdish-held town of Afrin.

The Associated Press

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