Turkish airstrikes devastate 3000-year-old temple in Syria's Afrin
Turkish airstrikes have partially destroyed an ancient temple in northern Syria, the country's antiquities department and a war monitor said on Sunday.
The Iron Age neo-Hittite temple of Ain Dara dates back to the Aramean era, from around 1,300 to 700 BC, and is named after a village located in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin.
Turkey launched operation "Olive Branch" on 20 January against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, supporting Syrian opposition fighters with ground troops and airstrikes.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the temple was struck by air strikes on Friday.
"It has been destroyed up to 60 percent," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
Syria's antiquities department, a government agency, confirmed the attack on "one of the most important monuments built by the Arameans in Syria during the first millennium BC".
"This attack reflects the hatred and barbarism of the Turkish regime against the Syrian identity and against the past, present and future of the Syrian people," a statement on its website said.
Former antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said the temple was discovered in 1982 and is known for its "colossal basalt lions which are exceptional".
"Three thousand years of civilisation destroyed in an air strike," Abdulkarim told AFP, denouncing the attack.
Dozens of major historical sites and monuments have been destroyed in fighting and by Islamic State militants during Syria's seven-year war, including the UNESCO-listed world heritage site of Palmyra.
IS fighters blew up the famed towers in Palmyra and also destroyed the statue of the Lion of Athena and the main Temple of Bel.
Abdelkarim told AFP the destruction of the Ain Dara temple was at "the same level of atrocity" as IS blowing up the Temple of Bel.
He also voiced concern for a group of 40 ancient villages in the Afrin region, which UNESCO calls "Ancient Villages of Northern Syria" and includes on its world heritage list.
"The villages, which date from the 1st to 7th centuries (AD), feature a remarkably well preserved landscape and the architectural remains of dwellings, pagan temples, churches, cisterns, bathhouses," according to the UNESCO website.
Last year the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage, stating that attacks perpetrated on heritage sites by the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda, and other combatant groups may constitute war crimes.