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Syria: Mass grave found in Afrin, says Turkey

Turkish and Kurdish officials trade blame for the bodies found buried in northwestern Syria
A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin, 9 October 2018 (AFP)

A mass grave holding scores of bodies has been found in Afrin in northwestern Syria, Turkish officials announced on Thursday.

According to Turkey’s defence ministry, excavations found 35 bodies in the area on Wednesday, following a tip-off. Rahmi Dogan, governor of Turkey's Hatay province, later announced that the number of bodies found had risen to 61.

The Turkish ministry accused the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) of being responsible for the mass grave, claiming that the bodies were buried in January 2018, when the YPG lost control of the Afrin area to Turkish-backed forces.

“Another war crime of the terrorist organisation PKK/YPG came to the light,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.

The Rojava Information Centre (RIC), affiliated to the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, rejected Turkey’s claims that the YPG or PKK were responsible.

“No evidence points to either group's involvement,” the RIC wrote on Twitter, before accusing Turkish-backed groups of being the ones behind the mass grave.

Turkey regards the YPG as a "terrorist" group tied to the PKK inside its own borders, and has staged incursions into Syria in support of Syrian rebels to push it from the Turkish frontier.

The region, like all areas held by pro-Turkish rebels, regularly witnesses targeted killings, bombings and shootings.

The conflict in Syria has killed at least 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.