The Latest: Syria Kurdish town residents flee Turkey advance

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria as it marks seven years of war this week (all times local):

4:55 p.m.

Hundreds of residents of the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria under Turkish assault are trickling out of Afrin’s center toward neighboring villages amid an intensifying offensive.

Arab and Turkish TVs broadcast images Thursday of residents leaving Afrin center in cars and on foot.

Lebanon-based Mayadeen TV spoke with distraught residents. Some said they are going to neighboring villages to fetch food and bread. The Turkish DHA TV showed trucks loaded with personal belongings lining the road out Afrin.

Turkish forces intensified their shelling of Afrin on Wednesday, after the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped to totally encircle the town by the evening. Shells slammed into the town center after dusk Afrin Wednesday, killing at least seven people and deepening the fear of a ground assault.

Turkey considers the Kurdish militia in charge of Afrin a threat to its national security.


3:30 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is rejecting calls in Europe for his country to halt its military offensive in a Syrian Kurdish-held enclave.

Erdogan spoke on Thursday at an award ceremony as the European Parliament prepares to debate a motion for a resolution on Syria. Turkish media reports said the resolution would call for an end to the Turkish offensive in Afrin enclave and a withdrawal of Turkish troops.

Addressing the European Parliament, Erdogan said: “Don’t get too excited. We won’t leave (Syria) until our job is done. You should know this, you should know this.”

He added: “Whatever (the European Parliament) says goes in one ear and out the other.”

Turkey launched a military offensive into the border enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out Syrian Kurdish forces that it considers to be “terrorists” and an extension of Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. The main town in the enclave, also known as Afrin, has been besieged by Turkish forces and their allies.


3:10 p.m.

Syrian Kurdish officials say a senior Kurdish official who played a key role with the United States in implementing its post-Islamic State policy in northern Syria, has been found dead in his apartment in northern Syria.

The main Kurdish party in Syria said Thursday the death of Omar Alloush is under investigation, and officials suspect foul play.

Alloush, a Kurd, played an important role in building relations between Arabs and Kurds in areas captured from Islamic State group militants. He was a main interlocutor with the U.S-led coalition in implementing its post-IS policy in Syria, including the negotiation of the exit of the last remaining IS militants from the city of Raqqa. He also helped set up the Raqqa Civil Council and others in the area.

Top Kurdish official Fawza Yousef said Alloush’s killing is a blow to joint Arab-Kurdish action and social peace following the defeat of IS.


3:05 p.m.

Nearly two dozen Syrian civil organizations are calling on world leaders to boycott the World Cup hosted by Russia to pressure it to use its leverage to stop the violence in Syria, now entering its eighth year.

Russia is the main backer of the Syrian government of Bashar Assad. With its military and aerial support, Moscow has turned the tide of the war in favor of Assad at a devastating cost.

Marking the seventh anniversary of the civil war, 22 Syrian organizations that work with refugees, displaced and in opposition areas, appealed to U.S. President Donald Trump and European leaders to threaten to boycott the 2018 World Cup to “send a clear message to (Russia) that they will face serious consequences unless they use their leverage immediately” with the Syrian leader to stop the bombing.


2:40 p.m.

Syrian state-run television says nearly 10,000 civilians have left the besieged, opposition-held eastern Ghouta region — by far the largest exodus so far.

Al-Ikhbariya TV says the civilians are from the town of Hamouriya and crossed Thursday into government-held territory through a humanitarian corridor set up by the Syrian military.

The TV showed footage of men, women and children streaming out of the besieged region, carrying their belongings including clothes, mattresses and suitcases.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which tracks the Syria war through a network of activists says 9,300 have left so far Thursday.

The mass exit came as Syrians marked seven years since the popular uprising that sparked their country’s vicious civil war — and hours after Syrian government forces blanketed the town with airstrikes and rocket fire


1 p.m.

Syrian state-run TV and pro-government stations are broadcasting footage of civilians streaming out of the besieged town of Hamouria in the opposition-held eastern Ghouta region, heading into government-held territory near the capital, Damascus.

The al-Ikhbariya TV and Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen and al-Manar channels say the civilians are eastern Ghouta residents whom government forces have “liberated” from rebel rule.

The broadcasts appear to show hundreds of men, women, and children walking out of the town. Al-Mayadeen showed buses waiting to pick up civilians. Al-Ihkbariya says they will be taken to a center for identification and relief.

Men interviewed on camera praised the Syrian army and President Bashar Assad and said armed groups had humiliated them and held them against their will in eastern Ghouta.

The exodus is a major media victory for the Syrian government.

It appears to be the largest departure of civilianss from eastern Ghouta since the government launched a punishing assault on the rebel-held region more than three weeks ago. More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in government and Russian airstrikes and rocket fire.


11:20 a.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says a joint convoy bringing aid to thousands of displaced Syrian families has entered the besieged rebel-held region of eastern Ghouta just outside of Damascus.

It says the joint convoy organized with the United Nations and the Syria Red Crescent Society consists of 25 trucks.

The ICRC said in a Tweet on Thursday that “this is just a little of what these families need.”

The convoy is headed for the town of Douma, the largest and most populated in eastern Ghouta, according to Douma-based media activist Youssef Boustani.

Previous aid deliveries last week were mired in violence that disrupted its distribution, with shells slamming in the town as the aid workers were inside.


10:35 a.m.

Syrian activists and monitoring groups say government and Russian forces are blanketing the besieged rebel-held eastern Ghouta region with airstrikes and rocket fire.

Thursday’s bombings come as Syria marks the seventh anniversary of the popular uprising that sparked the country’s vicious civil war.

The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, says its first responders are not able to reach the wounded in towns in rebel-held eastern Ghouta because of the intensity of the assault.

It says one of its rescue workers was killed in an airstrike in Hazeh on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says a column of civilians trying to flee government advances in Hamouria were targeted with shelling early in the day that wounded several people.

It said 26 people were killed in Hamouria on Wednesday.


10:30 a.m.

The Russian military says it has extended a “humanitarian pause” in fighting for two days in a part of Syria’s embattled eastern Ghouta enclave, just outside of Damascus.

The Russian Defense Ministry says the pause on Thursday and Friday is focused on the town of Douma. It claims the pause has allowed growing numbers of civilians to reach safety.

Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying 131 people left the area through the humanitarian corridor on Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin says some 100 people are expected to be evacuated on Thursday.

Russia ordered the daily humanitarian pauses late last month, but few civilians have left. And activists said continued government shelling and airstrikes killed at least 20 civilians on Wednesday eastern Ghouta.

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