WASHINGTON / AFRIN, SYRIA - Kurdish officials said Monday that Turkish air raids have seriously damaged an Iron Age temple in the northern Syria town of Afrin.
The temple of Ain Dara is located near a village by the same name in the southern countryside of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, and was built by the Arameans from around 1300 to 700 BC. Globally noted for its similarities to Solomon's Temple, the ancient sanctuary consists of large carved stones and wall reliefs, sculptures depicting lions and sphinxes, and giant footprints carved into the floor.
"The center of the temple, all the way to its right gate, has seriously been damaged," Salah Sino, a member of the Afrin antiquities committee, told VOA. "The ballast blocks at the right gate have been smashed into pieces and spread as far as 100 meters around the temple."
Sino said at least 50 percent of the neo-Hittite temple has been destroyed by Turkish shelling. He said the site came under attack twice last week.
A statement from the Syrian government's directorate general of antiquities and museums of the ministry of culture called for international pressure on Turkey "to prevent the targeting of archaeological and cultural sites."
A VOA reporter in northern Syria who visited the site Sunday confirmed that the relics were harmed, and said apparent shell craters could be seen inside the temple. VOA could not independently confirm if the damage was done by Turkish actions.
Turkey is currently engaged in an air and ground offensive in northwestern Syria's city of Afrin against a Kurdish group known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG.
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 focus on fighting IS.
Meanwhile, YPG has claimed that Turkish war jets have targeted Midanki Dam — also known as the 17th of Nisan Dam — located on the Afrin River, threatening the surrounding villages and towns with flooding if the dam collapses.
"Turkish warplanes have targeted Midanki Dam with several air raids, putting hundreds of villages in peril," according to the statement issued Sunday.
But Turkey maintains that its only targets in Syria are YPG.
"The operation concerns terrorists and terror organizations within the Afrin district," said deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag, as reported by state-run Anadolu Agency on Jan. 29.
Bozdag said some quarters were spreading reports that Turkey was attacking civilians and the Kurdish population in the region.
"This is all false news. Turkey is a state for our Kurdish brothers, as well," he said.
But according to U.K.-based watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, fierce clashes and intensive Turkish aerial and artillery raids on Afrin have left about 220 people dead, including 55 civilians.
Moreover, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said the world cannot remain silent while children are killed in Syria. About 23 children have been killed in Afrin, Idlib, Saraqab, Khan Shaykhoun and Damascus in the past few days.
"In Afrin, violence is reported to be so intense that families are confined to the basements of their buildings, after reportedly being prevented from leaving the area," the UNICEF official said.
Newroz Rasho, Salih Damiger and VOA Turkish Service contributed to this report.