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UN: Nearly 170,000 Flee Violence in Syria’s Afrin

Nearly 170,000 people have fled after a Turkish-led assault on the Kurdish-majority Syrian city of Afrin, the U.N. said Friday, pointing to the harrowing conditions faced by those displaced.

“The estimate now is 167,000 people have been displaced by hostilities in Afrin district,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva. He said most of those who had left had gone to nearby Tal Rifaat.

The World Health Organization (WHO) meanwhile said it had deployed mobile medical clinics and health supplies to areas hosting those displaced from Afrin, warning that health services inside the city were also lacking.

“Children, women, and men have undertaken harrowing journeys to flee Afrin and need urgent health assistance. Our staff have met civilians who reported walking for 36 hours to reach safer areas,” WHO’s representative in Syria Elizabeth Hoff said in a statement.

Marixie Mercado, a spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s agency, also said displaced people arriving at collective shelters in Nubul had described “running in the face of shelling, sleeping in the open, being separated from their families.”

Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels seized control of Afrin city from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia on Sunday. Ankara began its offensive in January against the YPG, which it says is allied with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) waging an insurgency against Turkey since 1984.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has put the number who have fled Afrin at 250,000, and says dozens of civilians have been killed in the fighting, in addition to around 1,500 Kurdish fighters.

According to Mr. Laerke, between 50,000 and 70,000 civilians are estimated to remain inside the city. The health situation there is also difficult, the WHO said, pointing out that only one of four hospitals was currently functioning.

More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

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