The Latest: UN children’s head says Syria is ‘hell’ for kids

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments related to Syria (all times local):

8:35 p.m.

The head of the United Nations children’s agency says the situation on the ground in Syria is “hell” for children in the war-torn country.

Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF’s executive director, says there is a high level of severe malnutrition for kids under 5 in besieged rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus.

Fore warned that malnourishment “is now more worrying for us than ever. We have a 12 percent severe acute malnutrition in east Ghouta for under five.”

Fore tells The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that aid agencies need access to bring humanitarian supplies to the Damascus suburbs known as eastern Ghouta that have been under a strong government attack for weeks.

Opposition activists say that since the bombardment of eastern Ghouta began on Feb. 18, some 900 people including hundreds of children have been killed. The area has already been under government siege fore months increasing the suffering of residents.


7:50 p.m.

Turkey’s military says its troops have captured a key town in the northwestern Syrian enclave of Afrin from Syrian Kurdish fighters.

The military announced Thursday that troops have “taken control” of Jinderes, hours after the country’s state-run agency said Turkish soldiers and allied Syrian opposition forces had entered the town situated in the enclave’s southwest.

Private Dogan news agency said Jinderes was captured following a day-long fighting and that troops had hoisted the Turkish flag in the town’s center.

Turkey launched the cross-border offensive on Jan. 20 to drive out the Syrian Kurdish fighters that Ankara considers to be a security threat because of their links to outlawed rebels in Turkey


5:45 p.m.

The Russian military says fighters in Syria’s East Ghouta opened fire on a convoy of about 300 families who were trying to flee the besieged Damascus eastern suburbs.

Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolutukhin, of the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring sides, said the convoy was hit about a kilometer from the southern exit of East Ghouta. Three cars caught fire, he said, but he did not give immediate figures on casualties.

Later, the militants fired mortars at an area where relatives of the refugees had gathered along with journalists, he said, according to the state news agency Tass.


5:15 p.m.

A top United Nations aid official is appealing to Russia and the Syrian government and those who have influence over armed opposition groups for a cessation of hostilities in eastern Ghouta.

Jan Egeland says it is “impossible” to cross into the frontline and deliver aid to people “we know are on the starvation point” because of the current fighting, which he describes as possibly the worst ever in the besieged Damascus suburb.

Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press from Oslo on Thursday, Egeland says there are intensive diplomatic efforts for a humanitarian pause that would lead to the evacuation of 1,000 priority cases for medical treatment.

“I’m very worried for a repeat of very many of the bad things we saw in the final days of the battle of Aleppo but to some extent this is worse,” he says.


2:15 p.m.

Turkey’s foreign minister says his government hopes that a cross-border military offensive in a Syrian Kurdish-held enclave will end before May.

Speaking during a joint news conference with his Austrian counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Vienna on Thursday that Turkey wants the operation to end as fast as possible so that Afrin can “quickly embrace stability and civilians can return.”

Turkey’s state-run news agency said meanwhile that Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition forces had entered the town of Jinderes, in the enclave’s southwest, where they were engaged in street clashes with Syrian Kurdish forces. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that a siege of Afrin’s main city would begin after Jinderes is taken.

Turkey launched the assault into the enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out Syrian Kurdish fighters that Ankara considers to be a security threat because of their links to outlawed rebels in Turkey.

The offensive has so far killed 42 Turkish soldiers and more than 150 allied Syrian opposition fighters.


9:40 a.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says a second convoy that was supposed to carry aid to the besieged rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus has been postponed because of the violence.

Ingy Sedky, the ICRC spokeswoman in Syria, said Thursday’s “convoy is postponed. No confirmation yet on when it will take place.”

The postponement came as government forces intensified their offensive on the area, known as eastern Ghouta, under the cover of airstrikes.

Sedky added that “the situation is evolving rapidly on the ground, which doesn’t allow us to carry out the operation in such conditions.”

Earlier this week, the first convoy in weeks made it into eastern Ghouta, but 14 of the 46 trucks were not able to fully offload critical humanitarian supplies because of stepped-up violence.

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