WASHINGTON / AFRIN, SYRIA —
Kurds in northern Syria say Turkish bombings have barred more than 40,000 students from education as local officials in Afrin shut down schools following airstrikes in the city's countryside.
"We regrettably have decided to halt the second term of the school year due to the attacks on Afrin," Salaw Hamosharo, the spokeswoman of the Afrin Education Commission, told VOA.
"Over 300 primary, secondary and high schools have been closed down," she added.
The Turkish military denies it is hitting civilian targets and calls Kurdish accusations "disinformation campaigns" to slander its cross-border intervention.
WATCH: Schools Closed in Afrin Due to Shelling
"Religious, cultural, historical and archaeological sites, as well as public facilities, have not been chosen as targets by the Turkish Armed Forces since the very beginning of this operation," the Turkish military said in a statement posted on its Twitter account Wednesday.
The military said the offensive, code-named Operation Olive Branch, is aimed at the Kurdish militants "to protect the friendly and brotherly people of that area from the oppression of these terrorist groups."
Turkey started an air and ground offensive in northwestern Syria, in the city of Afrin, against a Kurdish group known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG. It says the operation is to protect its borders from the group, which has gained control over large swaths of land across northern Syria since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization, alleging the group is an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for decades.
But the U.S. denies those connections and sees the YPG as a key ally in the battle against the Islamic State. Washington has urged Turkey to show restraint and has warned that the assault on Afrin could hinder the war on IS.
YPG is the main fighting force of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which played a key role in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State terror group in the region.
Some NATO member states also have raised concerns over Turkey's military operation in Afrin.
Speaking on local broadcaster BFM TV on Wednesday, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the foreign minister of France, accused Turkey of violating international law and said Ankara should not worsen the conflict.
"Ensuring the security of its borders does not mean killing civilians, and that should be condemned. In a dangerous situation in Syria, [Turkey] should not add war to war," he said.
According to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based watchdog monitoring developments in Syria, fierce clashes and intensive Turkish aerial and artillery raids on Afrin have left at least 60 civilians dead and thousands more displaced.
Afrin city's General Public Hospital told VOA that 26 children have been killed and 40 others injured from the Turkish shelling.
The observatory group said Turkish shelling Wednesday damaged a school in Maydanki village and a desalination plant in the Mateen area, about nine kilometers northeast of Afrin city. It said the damage endangered access to clean water for thousands of people in the region.
Officials of the Afrin Education Commission told VOA that two schools in Maydanki, one in Rajo village and another in Jindaresse were destroyed by Turkish shelling this week.
A VOA reporter on the ground in Afrin who visited one of the destroyed schools confirmed that the building has been damaged. However, VOA could not independently confirm if the damage was from Turkish attacks.