SDF denies responsibility for mass grave found in Syria
The number of bodies found in a mass grave near the city of Afrin in northwestern Syria rose to 68 on Friday, with local sources telling The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that it could rise even further as excavation operations, supervised by local authorities and the Turkish army, continued.
Afrin has been under the control of Turkish forces and their Syrian allies since March 2018, after Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” against Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) who had previously been in control of the city.
Turkey on Thursday accused the YPG of being responsible for the killings of the victims buried in the mass graves.
Rahmi Dogan, the governor of Turkey’s Hatay province, which is near Afrin, said that the bodies found had been executed by the YPG shortly before Afrin was captured by Turkey and its Syrian allies.
Turkish television broadcast video of officials in hazmat suits surrounded by bodies in bags.
However, on Friday the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia coalition led by fighters from the YPG, denied any responsibility for the killings, saying that the bodies found in the mass grave belonged to Kurdish fighters who had died defending Afrin against the Turkish attack.
The sources who spoke to The New Arab’s Arabic-language service said that the bodies had been transported to the local hospital and had not been identified yet, but that it seemed that they had been killed in the field.
The co-president of the SDF’s “Syrian Democratic Council”, Amina Omar, said that Turkish statements regarding the mass grave were part of a “media war against [the SDF] aiming to smear it”.
She told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that Turkish forces had “dug up the grave of dead fighters from the SDF who had defended the city” and condemned the Turkish excavation, saying that the international community should stand up to “Turkish violations”.
Mass graves have been found in the Afrin area before. In March 2018, the Turkish-sponsored “Syrian National Army” said that it had found the bodies of dozens of Syrian rebel fighters who were killed by YPG forces in 2016 and then paraded through Afrin.