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Smoke rises from the Syria's Afrin region, as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Hassa, on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey. REUTERS/Osman Orsal


BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian government and a war monitor said on Sunday that Turkish shelling of the Kurdish-held Afrin region of Syria had seriously damaged an ancient temple.

Ain Dara is an iron age temple with remains of large carved basalt blocks and wall reliefs. Pictures circulating online, which Reuters could not independently verify, showed an apparent shell crater in the site.

A statement from the Syrian government's antiquities department carried by Syrian state media called for international pressure on Turkey "to prevent the targeting of archaeological and cultural sites".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Ain Dara was exposed to Turkish shelling, causing significant damage but no casualties.

The Turkish military was not immediately available for comment.

Turkey's operation against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin began a week ago and has included heavy bombardment but limited advances by its army or allied Syrian rebel groups.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has condemned the Turkish assault, but it also opposes the YPG and Kurdish aspirations for autonomy in northern parts of Syria.

Syria's civil war which began in 2011, has led to major damage to many historical remains including widespread destruction in the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Palmyra and the Old City of Aleppo.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Keith Weir)

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