A massive bomb blast in the northern Syrian town of Afrin killed at least 46 people including 11 children and wounded another 50 in a crowded downtown street. Officials expect the death toll to rise.
The bomb was detonated using a fuel tanker to increase the lethality of the explosion. Turkey’s defense ministry blamed the attack on the Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia.
“The enemy of humanity, PKK/YPG has once again targeted innocent civilians in Afrin,” the Turkish military posted on Twitter. Later on Tuesday, security officials in the Haray governorate claim that they arrested a suspected PKK/YPG terrorist who delivered the bomb.
The PKK/YPG however, released a statement saying that they don’t target civilians.
Turkish military and local militia forces captured Afrin in 2018 in a devastating operation that ousted the Kurdish fighters and forced thousands of Kurdish civilians to flee. Turkey has long considered the PKK/YPG to be terrorists. They have thus accused Washington of supporting terrorists.
Since Afrin was taken there have been frequent attacks against Turkish troops and their Syrian militia proxies.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported that the tanker exploded on the busy Raju Street, blasting several vehicles in the process. There were reports of a hospital yard with 10 charred bodies that were covered with blankets, as more were being brought into the triage area.
Local witnesses described that the blast burned several people to death, including others who were stuck inside their vehicles and inside the buildings lining the street.
Syrian Civil Defence rescue workers, known as the “White Helmets,” were using firefighting tankers to put down the massive fire that engulfed vehicles and buildings, while rescue workers were feverishly working to haul away the dead and badly burned on stretchers.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the United States condemned the attack, stating “Initial reports indicate many victims were civilians, including children.” She reiterated a U.S. call for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria. “Such cowardly acts of evil are unacceptable from any side in this conflict.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the U.S. renews its call for support and implementation of a nationwide ceasefire in Syria after “today’s cowardly act of terror carried out on innocent victims in Afrin.”
In the ongoing civil war, which is characterized by a multitude of factions, Turkey supports one of the Syrian opposition groups fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
They are 3.5 million displaced people in refugee camps inside Turkey with almost another million more in austere camps along the border. Turkey wants to create a buffer zone along its border with Syria and return the refugees back.
The American government and the western coalition, mainly from the EU countries, have supported the SDF, which also fights against Assad. Yet SDF is hated by the Turks who believe them to be terrorists. The Iranians are there ostensibly to support Assad, but have their own agenda, as they try to build influence in the region and bases on the border with Israel. Russia is also a supporter of the Assad regime.
So with so many different factions vying against one another in Syria, who is ultimately responsible for this latest carnage is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, the violence and civilian suffering continue unabated.