Thousands flee Eastern Ghouta in ‘the largest’ exodus in one day in Syria’s seven-year war


Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail| 16 March 2018| 28 Jumadul Ukhra 1439

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, in what is believed to be the largest exodus in one day in the country’s seven-year war, as new round of peace talks open in Astana.

Faced with the prospect of more government bombardments, thousands of civilians abandoned the town of Hamouriyah, which has been at the centre of fighting between rebels and military forces.

Between 12,000 and 13,000 people have reportedly fled the area east of Damascus overnight and into Friday, according to news reports.

Grabbing what they could carry and loading it into their vehicles, desperate civilians streamed out of their homes, fleeing to areas controlled by the government.

Images posted online showed elderly women in wheelchairs and children carried by their parents as they walked amid the ruins.

Once controlled by rebels, Hamouriyah is now being surrounded by government forces.

“There is no water, no medicine that could be provided to our children, not even food,” an evacuee said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said as many as 20,000 people have abandoned their homes, with many still waiting to be transported to safe zones.

After nearly four weeks of relentless bombardment, which has left more than 1,250 civilians including children dead, government forces are inching closer to capturing the rest of the enclave, forcing civilians to flee. Regime forces have already split the enclave, under siege since 2013, into three sections.

Rebels, however, claimed that they have retaken Hamouriyah, one of the districts in Eastern Ghouta.

Meanwhile, some 25 trucks of food aid were allowed into Eastern Ghouta’s Douma district, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

It is unclear how long the food supply would last in an area believed to be populated with as many as 125,000.

The aid does not include medical supplies.

The entire Eastern Ghouta is home to 400,000 people, and it has been under a government siege since mid-2013.

The enclave is the current major battleground in Syria’s war, which entered its eighth year on Thursday.

The area is one of the last major remaining strongholds under the armed opposition, who are aiming to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

According to UNHCR figures, there have been nearly 500,000 people killed and over 11 million displaced in the war.

Meanwhile, dozens of Syrian civilians, including children, have been killed, as Turkish troops and its allied armed groups bombarded the city of Afrin in Syria’s Kurdish region.

The Syrian Observatory, a monitoring group based in the UK, said on Friday that the continued push by Turkish forces into Afrin have forced as many as 30,000 civilians to flee since Wednesday.

Meanwhile, foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, on Friday to continue negotiations on how to end the civil war in the Middle East country.

The agenda at the meeting also included how to maintain security in the established de-escalation zones as well as political and humanitarian issues.

The next round of talks is expected in the middle of May.

Source – Al Jazeera