First Published: 2018-02-17

Six suffer breathing difficulties after Turkish shelling in Afrin
Turkey denies accusations of chemical weapons use as military, rebel allies battle Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Middle East Online

Syrian man receiving treatment at a hospital in the Afrin, Syria.

AFRIN - Six men were treated for breathing difficulties in the main hospital in Afrin in Syria late Friday after shelling by a Turkish-led offensive on their village, a medical source and a monitor said.

Jiwan Mohammad, the general director of the Afrin hospital, said six men had arrived to the emergency room with "difficulty breathing, coughing, and burning all over the body."

"We have treated them and are observing them now. We kept their clothes for testing," Mohammad said, adding that their symptoms were in line with exposure to toxic agents.

He said they had arrived in civilian cars from Al-Sheikh Hadid, west of the town of Afrin, and had told medics there was shelling on their village.

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels have waged a nearly month-long offensive against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which controls the Afrin region.

The assault has seen heavy shelling on border areas between Afrin and Turkey.

An AFP correspondent at the town hospital saw six men wearing oxygen masks and laying under wool blankets, some of them fading in and out of consciouness.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that six people were wounded in bombardment on Al-Sheikh Hadid.

"Shelling from either Turkey or allied factions hit Al-Sheikh Hadid and left six people with enlarged pupils and breathing difficulties," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Abdel Rahman said he could not confirm whether toxic gases were used.

- 'Never used' -

Turkey has "never used" chemical weapons in Syria and accusations that it had done so are "baseless", a Turkish diplomatic source said on Saturday.

The Turkish source said Ankara took the "utmost care" regarding civilian safety and that the claims Turkey was responsible for an alleged gas attack were "baseless".

"Turkey never used chemical weapons," the source added. "(These are) lies... this is black propaganda."

Turkey says the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by the United States and the European Union.

But the YPG has been working closely with Washington to oust the Islamic State extremist group from Syria, which has strained relations between the two NATO allies.

The Observatory says at least 78 civilians have died during Turkey's operation but Ankara repeatedly insists it is taking all the necessary measures to protect civilians.


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