Thousands flee Eastern Ghouta in largest single-day exodus

Government air strikes kill at least 46 people on Friday, as thousands of residents flee besieged area near Damascus.

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 deadly air strikes continue.   

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

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that 46 civilians, including at least six children, were killed in air strikes in the Kafr Batna district on Friday morning.   

As the attacks continue, an estimated 2,000 people more people left the rebel-held area on Friday morning, according to the Russian defence ministry.  

Earlier on Friday, it was reported that between 12,000 and 13,000 people have fled the area east of Damascus overnight and into Friday morning.  

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 provided to our children, not even food,” an evacuee said.

SOHR said as many as 20,000 people have abandoned their homes, with many still waiting to be transported to safe zones.

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Gaziantep in Turkey, said the exodus was expected after the Syrian forces cut off supplies.

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.

Between 12,000 to 13,000 people have reportedly fled Eastern Ghouta as of Friday [Reuters]
Between 12,000 to 13,000 people have reportedly fled Eastern Ghouta as of Friday [Reuters]

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 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.

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

Continued displacement 

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.

On Friday alone, 2,500 people have been displaced because of the fighting.

'There is no water, no medicine that could provided to our children' [Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]
‘There is no water, no medicine that could provided to our children’ [Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]

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.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Astana, said that there have also been reports of the Russian government negotiating with rebel forces on the situation in Eastern Ghouta.

Our correspondent, however, said that when it comes to the question of transition and the political future of Syria, the parties in the negotiation remain unsettled.

Source: Al Jazeera