BEIRUT — Turkey said Tuesday its troops and allied Syrian fighters have encircled the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in northern Syria, putting hundreds of thousands of civilians under siege and marking a significant military advance in the seven-week operation.

Turkey launched its assault on the border enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out Syrian Kurdish forces that it views as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. The Turkish military said the siege of Afrin, the main town in the enclave of the same name, began Monday after the military took control of “critical areas.”

A passage out of Afrin remained partially open, and thousands of people have reportedly fled the town, heading toward nearby areas controlled by the Syrian government. Syria’s Al-Ikhbariya TV showed cars, trucks and tractors loaded with civilians driving out of the town.

Panic is spreading in the town as the Turkish forces approach, and some civilians have come under fire when they have tried to leave, according to residents and Syrian Kurdish officials.

A top Syrian Kurdish official, Fawza Yousef, described intense Turkish shelling of the town and said they expect Turkish forces to “invade” soon.

Elsewhere in Syria, dozens of civilians were evacuated from the besieged, rebel-held Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta.

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