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Thousands Flee Ghouta Amid Syrian Military Push


People flee the rebel-held town of Hammuriyeh on March 15.

Reports from Syria say thousands of civilians are fleeing the rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta into government-held territory, as government forces continue to advance.

The AFP news agency reported that residents, most of them women and children, were seen fleeing on foot, in cars, and on motorcycles via the town of Hammuriyeh, where the Syrian Army opened a corridor.

State television said that nearly 10,000 civilians had left Hammuriyeh, which has come under intense bombardment. The figure could not be independently verified.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 12,500 people had left -- the biggest exodus from the last opposition-controlled pocket near Damascus since the Syrian military stepped up an offensive to retake it last month.

Western governments and the United Nations have urged Syrian government forces and their allies to halt attacks that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on February 28 had already created "hell on Earth" for civilians stuck in Ghouta.

Meanwhile, residents in Ghouta's largest town, Douma, received food aid from a new 25-truck aid convoy.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the aid was just a fraction of what was needed in the besieged region, where some 400,000 people remain trapped.

The seven-year war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on peaceful protests, has claimed more than 350,000 lives, according to a UN-backed inquiry.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa
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