Syria Rebels Open To UN-backed Talks With Russia On Ghouta

Aaron Brown
March 19, 2018

UNICEF has put in place an emergency response plan to cope with up to 50,000 people fleeing Eastern Ghouta, spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told a United Nations briefing on Friday.

Syrian state TV aired live footage showing hundreds of men, women and children carrying their belongings and marching from the town of Hamouria that was recently captured by Syrian troops. Many carried infants on their shoulders or pushed them in strollers. A group crammed in the back of pickup truck waved Syrian state flags.

On Friday, Russian and Syrian planes dropped cluster bombs and incendiary weapons on the town in Kafr Batna in Eastern Ghouta, killing at least 46 people, a monitoring group said, as thousands more civilians fled the rebel-held region.

Almost 20,000 people fled Eastern Ghouta in 24 hours after regime forces advanced into an isolated town in southern Ghouta, creating a corridor into government-controlled territory.

A Reuters witness and state-run media separately said thousands were leaving.

Zolotukhin, who serves as a spokesman for the Russian Center for Reconciliation, said that those fleeing were using a government-run humanitarian corridor overseen by Russia's military.

Government forces have launched a brutal offensive to consolidate territory on the outskirts of Damascus.

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Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, has been under the control of armed rebels and al-Nusra Front since 2012.

ICRC President Peter Maurer went with the convoy, the first time he had accompanied such an operation. "The situation is tragic for the people inside", she said.

The UN is trying to determine the numbers fleeing Eastern Ghouta, but has been unable to observe the evacuations.

"Warplanes targeted civilians in Zamalka as they prepared to flee" the southern area of the enclave held by the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. Rescuers and a monitor said air strikes pounded the besieged zone.

Russia, one of Syria's key allies, ordered the opening of a humanitarian corridor in Douma last month to allow civilians to leave rebel-held parts of Eastern Ghouta.

The rebel factions accuse Damascus of trying to depopulate opposition towns and deny its charges that they have blocked people from leaving.

The Syrian Red Crescent and the International Red Cross help those unable to walk. The sound of explosions briefly rang out in the background. Another from Hammouriyeh said militants had attacked somebody who tried raising the Syrian flag there in recent weeks.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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