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Turkish-backed militants loot historical artifacts in northern Syria: SOHR

A Turkish-backed militant speaks to a comrade seated in an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), in the village of al-Ghandurah, northwest of Manbij in the north of Syria's Aleppo province, on October 16, 2019, upon returning from frontlines during clashes with Syrian Kurdish forces. (Photo by AFP)

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says Turkish-backed militants are plundering historical artifacts in Syria’s northwestern province of Aleppo and smuggling them over the border to sell in Turkey.

The Britain-based war monitor group, citing reliable sources requesting anonymity, reported on Tuesday that the militants have been systematically looting antiquities in the Afrin district, particularly in the city of al-Nabi Hori – also known as Korsh -- ever since Turkish military forces and their Syrian proxies launched an operation to push Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militants away from a “safe zone” along Syria's border with Turkey.

The SOHR highlighted that Turkish-affiliated militants, namely members of the so-called Soqoor al-Shamal terror group, have been carrying out indiscriminate excavations by heavy machinery in the area, seriously damaging cultural layers at numerous archaeological deposits.

The operations have also led to the destruction of fragile historical artifacts such as glassware, porcelain ware, pottery and mosaic paintings.

On November 6, 2019, a worker at an illegal excavation site posted on Facebook pictures of three mosaics and other artifacts.

“The publisher made no mention of the location of the paintings or the identity of people shown in the picture. The paintings, nevertheless, strongly indicated that they have been recovered from a mountainous site controlled by Turkish-backed militants.

“The fact was later corroborated after a number of people pressed the publisher to reveal the exact location of the findings, and he said they had been recovered in al-Nabi Hori,” the sources said.

He had to remove the Facebook post a few days later after a journalist tried to communicate with him to investigate the originality of the paintings.

On October 9, Turkish military forces and Ankara-backed militants launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion of northeastern Syria in a declared attempt to push YPG militants away from border areas.

Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

On October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a memorandum of understanding that asserted YPG militants had to withdraw from the Turkish-controlled "safe zone" in northeastern Syria within 150 hours, after which Ankara and Moscow would run joint patrols around the area.

The announcement was made hours before a US-brokered five-day truce between Turkish and Kurdish-led forces was due to expire.

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