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Mar 17, 12:18 PM EDT

The Latest: Syrian troops capture major eastern Ghouta town

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Latest Syria News
The Latest: Hundreds stream out of Syria's eastern Ghouta

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BEIRUT (AP) -- The Latest on developments related to the war in Syria (all times local):

6:20 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists say government forces have captured a major town east of the capital Damascus and taken parts of another.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Oways al-Shami of the Syrian Civil Defense say troops have taken Kafr Batna and large parts of nearby Saqba.

The new push by the government squeezes rebels in a small corner of the eastern suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta.

The capture of Kafr Batna and saqba are a major blow to the rebels since they were among their largest strongholds in the area.


4:10 p.m.

The head of Russia's military general staff is saying that American instructors are training groups of Syrian rebels to carry out chemical weapons attacks.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi also said at a briefing Saturday that Russia is concerned about signs that U.S. forces could be preparing missile attacks on Syria.

"It's reliably known to us that American instructors in the area of the city of al-Tanfa are preparing several groups of fighters for carrying out provocations with the use of chemical weapons," he said, according to Russian news agencies.

He said poisonous substances have been delivered to southern Syria under the guise of humanitarian convoys.

In addition, he said, "We are noticing signs of preparation for possible attacks" from the sea.

"In the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Persian Gulf and in the Red Sea attack groups of carriers that carry cruise missiles have been created," Rudskoi said.


2:15 p.m.

The Russian military says more than 30,000 people have fled Syria's besieged east Ghouta and that the flow is continuing.

Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the civilians were leaving Saturday through a government-run humanitarian corridor monitored by the Russian military.

"As of this time, more than 30,000 people have left and people are continuing to exit," he was quoted as saying Saturday afternoon by Russian news agencies.

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


12:05 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists are reporting that dozens of people were killed and scores wounded when an airstrike hit a rebel-held town east of the capital Damascus.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 30 people were killed in Saturday's 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.

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

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


11:45 a.m.

Turkey's military has 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 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.


9:30 a.m.

Russia's military says more than 11,000 people have left Syria's besieged eastern Ghouta outside the capital Damascus in the past few hours as government forces step up an offensive on the rebel enclave.

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.

Airstrikes in Syria killed more than 100 people on Friday as civilians fled en masse. Under cover of allied Russian air power, Syrian government forces have been on a crushing offensive for three weeks on eastern Ghouta.

The weekslong violence has left more than 1,300 civilians dead and 5,000 wounded.

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