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Feb 20, 5:54 AM EST

The Latest: Turkey's president says his forces battling in Syrian enclave will soon start besieging city of Afrin


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Indictment of Monzer al-Kassar
Latest Syria News
The Latest: Turkey's president says his forces battling in Syrian enclave will soon start besieging city of Afrin

Syrian activists, paramedics say 98 people were killed in government shelling of rebel-held Damascus suburbs on Monday

Turkey threatens to hit back at Syrian pro-government troops if they deploy to Kurdish enclave

A Turkish minister says reports that Syrian government forces are entering a Syrian Kurdish-held enclave "are false," adding that any move by Damascus to protect the Kurdish militia there would be a "disaster" for the region

A job center has opened in Jordan's second largest camp for Syrian refugees, the latest sign of a EU-backed policy shift meant to improve life for Syrians in regional host countries

BEIRUT (AP) -- The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

12:40 p.m.

Turkey's president says Turkish troops involved in an offensive to drive out Syrian Kurdish militiamen from a Syrian enclave will soon begin a siege of the city of Afrin.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his ruling party's legislators on Tuesday that the month-long offensive into the northwester enclave of Afrin has so far been progressing slowly.

He says Turkey is not there "to burn and destroy" the enclave but to ensure it becomes a "safe and livable place."

Erdogan said that, however, "in the coming days, the siege of Afrin city center will commence at a more rapid pace."

Turkey launched its offensive to clear Afrin of the Syrian Kurdish militia it considers a "terrorist" organization and an extension to its own outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting within Turkey.

Turkish troops have so far seized border regions encircling Afrin, including strategic hills.

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11:55 a.m.

The U.N. children's agency has issued a statement of protest against the killing of scores of people, including children, in the Syrian government bombardment of rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.

UNICEF's one-page statement released on Tuesday carries a headline, saying: "Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?"

The headline is flowed by blank space underneath.

UNICEF said it issued this blank statement because "we no longer have the words to describe children's suffering and our outrage."

Syrian opposition activists and paramedics said airstrikes and shelling of Damascus' eastern suburbs known as eastern Ghouta killed at least 98 people, including 20 children, on Monday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the daily death toll is the highest in the area since 2015.

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11:15 a.m.

Residents of the Syrian capital and the state-run news agency say shells from besieged rebel-held suburbs are raining down on Damascus.

SANA says Tuesday's shelling killed one person and wounded at least six people. It comes amid a major government offensive on the region known as eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian Civil Defense affiliated with the opposition said the shelling and airstrikes killed 98 on Monday, adding that some people were still under the rubble.

A resident of Damascus hiding in the corridor of an office building described the shelling as one of the worst in months. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity for security concerns.

The shelling targeted the districts of Old Damascus, Bab Touma, Abu Rummaneh and others.

-Zeina Karam in Beirut;

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10:30 a.m.

A Syrian monitoring group and paramedics say government shelling and airstrikes on rebel-held suburbs of the capital, Damascus, killed at least 98 people on Monday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it was the deadliest day in three years in the area known as eastern Ghouta.

The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, said the shelling and airstrikes killed 98 and that some people are still under the rubble.

The Observatory says 20 children and 15 women were among those killed on Monday.

The targeted suburbs have been subjected to weeks-long bombardment that has killed and wounded hundreds of people.

Opposition activists say government forces have brought in reinforcements in preparation for a wider offensive on the area - the last main rebel stronghold near Damascus.

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