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BEIRUT -- Several media activists and citizen journalists based in southwestern Syria appealed for help Wednesday so they can leave the region as it is on the verge of falling into the hands of government forces.

The appeal came as the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement saying that at least 70 Syrian journalists are "trapped" in the country's southwest, where government forces have been on the offensive for the past three weeks.

The opposition media activists say they fear for their lives if they're captured by government troops, adding that some citizen journalists disappeared after Syrian forces took the eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, earlier this year, and their fate remains unknown.

Since June 19, government forces have captured most of southwestern Daraa province. They now control much of the border with Jordan. That has left most of the remaining citizen journalists trapped in nearby Quneitra province, along the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"We want to be evacuated from Quneitra to Turkey or any other place in the world," said Quneitra-based citizen journalist Jalal al-Ahmad.

Al-Ahmad and two other citizen journalists said Russia-brokered deals to evacuate Syrian rebels and their families from the region do not include media activists.

"No one has discussed the fate of journalists so far," al-Ahmad said, adding that many fear death under torture at the hands of Syrian troops after they take the area. "We have received death threats over the phone and through Facebook."

Another citizen journalist, who goes by the name of Maher Hariri, said he and his peers are under siege and "want someone to save our lives. We want to go to any place that is safe."

Syria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

At least 120 journalists have been killed in the country in relation to their work since the conflict began in 2011, according to committee research. At the time of the committee's most recent prison census, at least seven journalists were in Syrian prisons while many others were missing.

"Given the danger from fighting, as well as Syrian security services' heavy-handed treatment of journalists and media workers in the past, it is no wonder that the journalists in Daraa and Quneitra are afraid," Sherif Mansour, Mideast and North Africa coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said from Washington.

"We call on all governments in the region to work together to ensure that the journalists' well-being is safe-guarded," he added.

On Wednesday, Syrian warplanes and helicopter gunships pounded areas in the southwestern Yarmouk Basin, which is controlled by a faction linked to the Islamic State militant group. The strikes came a day after a suicide attack in the village of Zeizoun that killed 14 soldiers and pro-government gunmen, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war-monitoring group.

The Syrian side of the Yarmouk Basin is controlled by the Islamic State-linked Khaled bin Al-Waleed Army.

The Observatory said the airstrikes came as the government continued to send reinforcements to the area ahead of a ground offensive. The extremists are holding about 30,000 civilians there as "human shields," the Observatory added.

The Islamic State-affiliated Aamaq news agency carried the militants' claim of responsibility for the attack in Zeizoun, which was captured by government forces earlier this week as part of the offensive in southern Syria.

A Section on 07/12/2018

Print Headline: Fearful journalists in Syria beg for help to flee

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