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SANA: Ankara-backed militants transfer Syria’s cultural heritage, antiques to Turkey

The file photo shows ruins of the North Church (561 AD) at the ancient site of Barad, near a village of the same name, in Aleppo province, Syria.

Ankara-backed militants transfer cultural heritage items from Syria’s northern province of Aleppo to neighboring Turkey, Syria’s state media reveals.

In a report on Thursday, Syria's official news agency SANA, citing civil sources, said that “Turkish occupation mercenaries” had commenced fresh excavations for antiquities under direct “Turkish intelligence supervision” in areas around the occupied city of Afrin.

The Ankara-backed militants, equipped with modern excavation equipment, had begun digging and bulldozing a number of sites on the outskirts of the Nabi Huri castle in Afrin in search of antiquities and artifacts, it said.

The report said that such plunder of the Syrian cultural heritage is part of a plot by the “Turkish occupier” to empty the area of its cultural identity after displacing its original inhabitants.

The unnamed sources stressed that the move was being “systematically” carried out and “managed” by Turkey's intelligence authorities who control the militants and instruct them how to search for antiquities and artifacts.

Syria’s foreign ministry has repeatedly condemned illegal excavations for antiquities carried out by American, French, and Turkish forces and their agents in Manbij, Afrin, Idlib, Hasakah, Raqqah, and other areas of the Arab country, saying such indiscriminate excavations by heavy machinery, seriously damage numerous archaeological deposits.

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

In January 2018, Ankara launched a cross-border military operation inside Syria, code-named Operation Olive Branch, with the declared aim of eliminating Kurdish militants of the People's Protection Units (YPG).

The Turkish military and militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is fully backed by Ankara, entered Afrin in March that year.

The Turkish government 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.

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