The Financial Express

Dozens die in air strikes, shelling, thousands flee twin offensives

Iran, Russia,Turkey hold talks in Astana

Dozens die in air strikes, shelling, thousands flee twin offensives

Russian air strikes and Turkish shelling killed at least 49 in Syria on Friday, report agencies.

As many as 50,000 people have fled separate offensives against rebel forces in northern and southern Syria in recent days, activists say.

Russian air strikes reportedly killed 31 people in the Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus on Friday, after 20,000 people left the region.

In the northern town of Afrin, where 30,000 people have fled, Turkish shelling killed at least 18 people.

Seven years of war have driven nearly 12 million Syrians from their homes.

At least 6.1 million are internally displaced while another 5.6 million have fled abroad.

More than 400,000 are believed to have been killed or are missing, presumed dead, since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

The foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran - three countries closely involved in the conflict - have met in the Kazakh capital Astana to prepare for a summit on Syria in Istanbul next month.

The Syrian war entered its eighth year this week having killed half a million people and driven more than 11 million from their homes, including nearly 6 million who have fled abroad in one of the worst refugee crises of modern times.

The two main battles under way now are the government's assault on eastern Ghouta, which began a month ago, and the Turkish assault on Afrin, launched in January.

Meanwhile, the UN children's fund UNICEF has response plans in place to cope with 50,000 people coming out of the Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta, spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told a UN briefing in Geneva on Friday.

"We have been working, planning to respond to evacuations for a while and specifically to provide shelters with emergency assistance," she said. "Our response plans cover up to 50,000 people."

Another report adds: Turkish artillery fire on the Kurdish-majority enclave of Afrin in northern Syria killed at least 18 civilians on Friday.

"Since midnight, 18 civilians, including five children, were killed by Turkish artillery fire on the city of Afrin," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey were locked in talks on Syria in Kazakhstan Friday, almost a month after the Moscow and Tehran-backed regime began pounding an opposition enclave just outside of Damascus.

The dire humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, is likely to be on the agenda as Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey convened in the Kazakh capital Astana Friday.

A Russian foreign ministry statement said "the situation 'on the ground' will be considered" at talks, as well as "successes and difficulties in the process of de-escalation".

The meeting is expected to lay ground for a summit involving the presidents of the three countries in Istanbul on April 4.

A spokesman for Kazakhstan's foreign ministry confirmed Friday that talks were beginning as scheduled at 0500 GMT.

More than 340,000 people have been killed since Syria's brutal civil war started in 2011. It has since spiralled into a complex conflict involving multiple world powers.

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