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Syria conflict rages as war enters eighth year

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More than 1,220 civilians-a fifth of them children-have been killed in the rebel-held enclave since the Syrian regime launched a ferocious air and ground offensive.

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16th-Mar-2018       
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AFP, Beirut  :
Syria's lacerating conflict entered its eighth year Thursday with the country riven by international power struggles, as Turkey encircled a besieged northern Kurdish enclave, while Russian-backed regime forces pounded into shrinking rebel areas near Damascus.
The bloodshed, which has devastated huge swathes of the country since it started on March 15, 2011 when the government of President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on mostly peaceful protests, has splintered into ever more complicated conflicts.In the latest fighting, Ankara-backed forces launched a bombardment of Afrin and closed in on the main city, in an offensive that could redraw the map in northern Syria.
The development came as regime forces, backed by Moscow, broke into a key town in the beleaguered rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta late Wednesday, driving further into the last opposition bastion outside Damascus.
More than 1,220 civilians-a fifth of them children-have been killed in the rebel-held enclave since the Syrian regime launched a ferocious air and ground offensive on February 18.
International efforts have consistently failed to stop one of the deadliest wars of the century, with more than 350,000 people killed since the conflict first erupted, and more than half of Syria's pre-war population of 20 million displaced.
While the past few months saw the collapse of the Islamic State group's "caliphate"-an experiment in jihadist statehood declared in 2014 in swathes of Syria and Iraq-world powers have since sought to carve out increased influence in the region.
US-backed Kurds hold oil-rich territory in northeastern Syria covering 30 percent of the country and a motley assortment of Turkey-backed Arab rebels are cutting a third haven in the northwest.
Ankara, which launched a deadly ground and air offensive against the Kurdish-majority enclave of Afrin on January 20, vowed on Wednesday that its encirclement of the main city "will have been completed by the evening", a Turkish presidency source said.
The claim was laughed off by a top official in the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which controls Afrin.
"It sounds like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is daydreaming when he says Afrin will fall tonight," Redur Khalil told AFP.
On Wednesday, Turkish bombing raids killed 10 fighters loyal to the Syrian regime, which has deployed pro-government forces to the fray after the Kurds asked for help.
Shells rained down on Afrin city, killing 10 civilians including four children.
Displaced families have swelled the city's population to around 350,000, and officials feared a humanitarian crisis should Turkish forces draw closer.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that Turkey-led forces controlled 70 percent of the wider Kurdish enclave, after seizing several villages.

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