Syrian Lives Claimed as Thousands Flee

BEIRUT (AP) -- Government airstrikes on a rebel-held town east of the capital Damascus killed dozens and wounded scores on Friday, opposition activists said, as thousands of people left the besieged areas known as eastern Ghouta.

The violence near Damascus came as Turkey's military rejected allegations it bombed a hospital in Afrin in northwestern Syria, where it's engaged in an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters.

The military tweeted aerial footage and photographs of the town's general hospital it said were from Saturday morning, showing it was intact. The army said in a statement the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units or YPG were trying to create a "negative perception" of the Turkish military.

On Friday, YPG official Redur Khalil and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an airstrike on the hospital. The Observatory said 16 people were killed in the hospital including two pregnant women.

Turkey launched an offensive against the YPG on Jan. 20 to clear Afrin. The country considers the YPG a terror group and a wing of a Kurdish insurgency operating within its own border.

The Observatory said that nearly 200,000 people have fled the region of Afrin over the past days and entered government-controlled areas nearby.

Near Damascus, more than 11,000 people left eastern Ghouta on Saturday as government forces stepped up an offensive on the rebel enclave, according to Syrian and Russian officials.

The Observatory said 30 people were killed in the Saturday morning airstrike on Zamalka that hit a group of people who were trying to flee into government-controlled areas.

The opposition's Syrian Civil Defense said the airstrike killed dozens and wounded scores, adding that paramedics are trying to help people.

The Observatory said government forces reached the outskirts of the rebel-held town of Kafr Batna marching in from the town of Jibreen that troops captured on Friday.

Tens of thousands of residents from the area known as eastern Ghouta have fled to government-controlled districts since Thursday.

Syrian state-run Ikhbariyah TV aired live footage showing hundreds of men, women and children carrying their belongings and marching into the town of Hamouria that was recently captured by Syrian troops.

The station also showed a Syrian soldier meeting his mother and siblings for the first time in five years after they came out of eastern Ghouta. The soldier was seen kissing his mother who was weeping.

Ikhbariyah quoted an unnamed military official as saying 10,000 people left eastern Ghouta on Saturday alone.

Russia's Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that some 3,000 people have been leaving every hour Saturday through a government-run humanitarian corridor monitored by the Russian military.

Zolotukhin is spokesman for the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria.

The weekslong violence in eastern Ghouta has left about 1,400 civilians dead and more than 5,000 wounded.

(KA)