ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A fuel tanker exploded Tuesday in an attack on a northern Syrian town controlled by Turkish-backed opposition fighters, killing at least 40 civilians, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said.

The ministry tweeted that the attack took place in a crowded street in Afrin and the dead included 11 children. It said 47 people were wounded.

Turkey's state news agency cited unnamed security officials who said the attack was believed to have been carried out by Syrian Kurdish fighters linked to Kurdish militants fighting Turkey.

Turkey and allied Syrian fighters took control of Afrin in 2018 in a military operation that expelled local Kurdish fighters and displaced thousands of Kurdish residents. Ankara considers the Kurdish fighters who were in control of Afrin to be terrorists. Since then, there has been a series of attacks on Turkish targets in the area.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said Tuesday's blast took place in a market and killed 36, including women and children, and wounded about 40 others.

Syrian activists said the blast burned several people to death, including some who were stuck inside their vehicles.

In a hospital yard, 10 charred bodies were covered with blankets next to ambulances. In an ambulance nearby, two charred bodies were inside, according to videos and photos circulated by activists.

The blast set several cars and shops on fire and tanker trucks were used to fight the blaze.

Similar blasts in areas controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters have killed scores of people in recent months, attacks that Ankara blames on Kurdish fighters.

Turkey supports the Syrian opposition in the war against President Bashar Assad but has joined with Russia to secure and monitor local cease-fires.

Activist collectives in northern Syria urged people in the Afrin area to head to hospitals and donate blood.

The Observatory and other activists said the death toll could rise because some of the wounded were in critical condition.


Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.