Residents of Syrian enclave left to flee as bombardment continues

Hundreds of people in Eastern Ghouta are fleeing advancing Syrian regime forces

Turkish forces, supported by Syrian rebel groups, seized the town of Rajo on Saturday, and Turkey's prime minister said they were advancing towards Afrin city "step by step".

It has set up humanitarian pauses and corridors for civilians to escape the area, but it says militants are ignoring them and launching attacks to prevent the locals from leaving.

United Nations officials had said lack of approvals and consensus among the warring parties, as well as the limited duration of the five-hour Russian-ordered humanitarian pause, had made aid delivery impossible.

"Therefore we must continue with the operation and in parallel open the way for civilians to leave", he said.

The Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground to monitor Syria's civil war, said rebels had retaken some parts of Shifoniya. Hundreds of people have been killed in the barrage that started on 18 February. A reporter from the Syrian state-run Al Ekhbariya TV, accompanying troops, broadcast from Nashabiyah, a village on the south-eastern edge of eastern Ghouta.

Assad dismissed Western statements about the humanitarian situation in eastern Ghouta as "a ridiculous lie".

The regime's capture of that city marked a turning point in the war, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad taking back control of all four major cities in the country - with the help of Russian Federation. The rebels say the humanitarian corridor is part of government efforts to forcibly displace the population, and have called on government forces to implement a full ceasefire adopted by the U.N. Security Council.

The multi-sided war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people since 2011, has escalated on several fronts this year, as the collapse of Islamic State has given way to other conflicts between Syrian and worldwide parties.

Some of the heaviest fighting on Sunday was concentrated in the area of Beit Sawa on the eastern edge of the densely populated centre of eastern Ghouta, where civilians fled clashes between government forces and Jaysh al-Islam, one of three main rebel groups.

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But previous estimates had been around $4.4 billion , a number that President-elect Trump himself lambasted in December 2016. He said the contract will save taxpayers more than $1.4 billion, but those savings could not be independently confirmed.

One resident estimated that thousands of people were on the move and seeking shelter in areas further from the frontlines. The U.N. said it would deliver humanitarian aid to the Eastern Ghouta enclave on Monday.

The Observatory said at least 12 regime fighters had been killed in overnight clashes.

According to Yevtushenko, twenty-four mines were fired at Damascus and its suburbs from Eastern Ghouta in the past day.

"Instead of a much-needed reprieve, we continue to see more fighting, more death, and more disturbing reports of hunger and hospitals being bombed", he said in a statement.

In a statement, the UN said the aid convoy will consist of 46 truckloads of health and nutrition supplies, along with food for 27,500 people in need and will be led by Ali Al-Za'tari, the UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator. A second trip was planned for Thursday.

A motorcade carrying critical humanitarian aid from the United Nations and other relief agencies will not enter the besieged enclave of East Ghouta today, as predicted so far, a UN official said.

The death toll in the region may rise as the attacks are still ongoing.

Turkey, backed by Syrian militias, has gained ground in recent days in Afrin.

The 30-day cessation of hostilities does not apply to the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL), Al-Nusra Front or any other terrorist groups.

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