Syria war: ‘Civilians killed’ as thousands flee Turkish air strikes

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Syrians flee Afrin on 17 March 2018Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tens of thousands of people have fled the Turkish military offensive in Afrin

A number of civilians have been killed by Turkish shelling and air strikes while trying to flee the embattled Syrian city of Afrin, reports say.

Kurdish media spoke of dozens killed and wounded on Friday night alone while a UK-based monitoring group reported further deaths on Saturday.

A resident told the BBC that shells on Friday had hit cars packed with people and air strikes had hit a hospital.

At least 150,000 people have reportedly fled the Kurdish-majority city.

Turkey denies targeting civilians. It launched its military operation to clear the Afrin region, in northern Syria, of a US-backed Kurdish militia it considers a terrorist organisation.

Turkey and its Free Syrian Army allies have captured several villages in their push to capture the city, reports say. The FSA said it had opened corridors to the south to allow civilians to escape.

However, Afrin resident Ranya said shells had hit cars carrying civilians in the al-Mahmoudia area. “Bodies were everywhere,” she said.

“Also at night there were air strikes targeting Afrin hospital. There were a lot of victims there and due to the intensive shelling people cannot go to get the bodies. Some bodies are still there on the street.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said 16 people had died at the hospital. “It was the only functioning hospital in Afrin city,” a Kurdish Red Crescent official told the AFP news agency.

Turkey, however, denied striking the hospital, insisting it had not harmed civilians during its two month-long operation. The Turkish military produced aerial photos of the hospital on Saturday which it said proved the reports were false.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated his forces are close to taking the city, saying: “We are nearing the end in Afrin.”

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Media captionAfrin: What is going on in Syria’s other battle?

The Eastern Ghouta region, near the Syrian capital Damascus, has seen a similar exodus of civilians in recent days with Russian air strikes support the Syrian government’s attempts to retake the area from rebel forces.

Seven years of civil war have driven nearly 12 million Syrians from their homes:

  • At least 6.1 million are internally displaced
  • Another 5.6 million have fled abroad
  • More than 400,000 are believed to have been killed or are missing, presumed dead

Afrin, a town populated mainly by ethnic Kurds near the Turkish border, has been under bombardment from the air and the ground by Turkish forces and their local Syrian allies.

Turkey is targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a militia that it regards as an extension of the Kurdish forces on its own territory – a banned group that Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.

But Kurdish fighters in Syria have been a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, and have received support from the US to that end.

Brusk Hasakeh, a YPG spokesman, told Reuters news agency that Turkish forces and their Syrian militia allies were trying to storm Afrin from the north but the YPG and its women’s affiliate, the YPJ, were fighting back.

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