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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Thousands of Syrian Civilians Flee Last Major Rebel Stronghold

By VOA News March 15, 2018

Thousands of civilians fled the rebel-held eastern Ghouta town of Hammouriyeh on Thursday as the Syrian army continued to make inroads into the last major stronghold in the area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said it was the largest exodus of people from the besieged area near Damascus since government forces launched a campaign to recapture it last month.

After the Syrian army opened a corridor following a late-night advance, the civilians were seen fleeing to an area held by the Syrian government on foot, in cars and on motorcycles.

Scores of wounded and sick people were evacuated earlier this week from eastern Ghouta, which has been divided into three encircled areas by the government offensive.

Twenty-five trucks hauling humanitarian aid entered the northern rebel-held area and was headed to the town of Douma, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

The ICRC added the convoy was transporting enough food aid for 26,100 people for one month and other items as well.

The Observatory also said overnight that dozens of air strikes and shelling pounded eastern Ghouta's southern pocket.

Russia and Syria have said their forces only target armed militants and try to halt insurgent mortar attacks that have killed dozens of people in the area. The two countries have blamed the rebels of using civilians as human shields, an accusation the insurgents have denied.

Amnesty International, however, accused the Syrian and Russian governments and other participants in the war Thursday of failing to end "the suffering of millions of Syrians" and to stop attacks on civilians in eastern Ghouta and Afrin.

"The international community's catastrophic failure to take concrete action to protect the people of Syria has allowed parties to the conflict, most notably the Syrian government, to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity with complete impunity, often with assistance of outside powers, particularly Russia," Amnesty's Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf said in a statement issued on the seventh anniversary of the Syrian Civil war.

The human rights group said 400,000 civilians in eastern Ghouta "are being starved and indiscriminately bombed by the Syrian government with the backing of Russia."

Opposition groups have responded by 'Indiscriminately shelling" two villages in the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, Amnesty said, and added hundreds of Syrian Kurds have fled Afrin to escape attacks by the Turkish government and opposition groups.

Amnesty called on the United Nations Security Council to "enforce its resolutions which call for an end to unlawful sieges and attacks." The group also urged the council to refer those responsible for "war crimes and crimes against humanity" to the International Criminal Court.

Additionally, the rights group requested that all parties involved in the war to obey international law by allowing civilians who want to flee the area to leave freely and to provide unrestricted access to humanitarian aid.



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