At least 13 people, including two medical staff, have been killed and several wounded in two separate artillery attacks in the northern Syrian town of Afrin controlled by Turkey-backed fighters, activists and an aid group said on Sunday.
The first attack struck a residential area, while the second hit a hospital shortly afterwards, civil defence sources told Reuters news agency. Video footage on social media showed casualties amid the ruins of the al-Shifa hospital, which went out of service after the attack.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the shelling, which reportedly came from areas where Syrian government troops and Kurdish-led fighters are deployed.
The governor of Turkey’s Hatay province, across the border from Afrin, and Turkey’s defence ministry also said the attack killed 13 civilians and injured 27, adding that it involved rocket and artillery shelling of the hospital. The governor’s office blamed the attack on Syrian Kurdish groups.
Ankara condemned the attack, saying it was launched by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which forms the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF said it was not behind the attacks.
Ankara considers the YPG a “terrorist” group linked to Kurdish separatist group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), inside Turkey. The PKK is designated as a “terrorist group” by the United States and the European Union.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 18. Al Jazeera could not verify the conflicting death toll figures.
“The shelling targeted several areas of the town and hit the hospital,” Syrian Observatory Director Rami Abdurrahman was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
The artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province “where militia faithful to Iran and the [Syrian] regime are deployed, near the zones run by Kurdish forces”, he added.
The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), an aid group that assists health centres in opposition areas, confirmed that the hospital was targeted by two missiles which destroyed the polyclinic department, the emergency and the delivery rooms.
Two of the 13 killed were hospital staff and two were ambulance drivers, said SAMS. Eleven staff were injured.
SAMS said the hospital was one of the largest facilities in northern Syria that offered thousands of medical services each month and its coordinates were shared as part of the United Nations-led deconfliction mechanism.
Afrin was largely cleared of YPG fighters in 2018 through a military operation by Turkey. Ankara now retains a large military presence in the area, deploying thousands of troops.