Syrian Civil War Destroying World Heritage Sites

World | September 29, 2012, Saturday // 17:36|  views

An undated handout picture made available on 24 September 2012 by Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows what SANA claims to be Syrian army soldiers patrolling a street of the Al-Arqoub area, Aleppo province, Syria. EPA/BGNES

Hundreds of shops have been set on fire in the ancient covered market of the Old City of Syria's Aleppo on Saturday as fighting between rebels and regime forces in the city threatened to destroy a UNESCO world heritage site.

In addition to more than 30 000 dead, many of Syria's historic treasures have also fallen victim to the 18-month civil war conflict between the rebels and the regime of President Assad that has reduced parts of some cities to ruins, international media report.

Rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad announced a new offensive in Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub of 2.5 million people, on Thursday, but neither side has appeared to make significant gains.

In Aleppo, activists speaking via Skype said army snipers were making it difficult to approach the Souk al-Madina, the medieval market of vaulted stone alleyways and carved wooden facades that was once a major tourist attraction.

Activists said the fire might have been started by heavy shelling and gunfire on Friday and estimated that 700 to 1,000 shops had been destroyed so far. The accounts are difficult to verify because the government restricts access to foreign media.

Aleppo's Old City is one of several locations in Syria declared world heritage sites by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, that are now at risk from the fighting.

UNESCO believes five of Syria's six heritage sites - which also include the ancient desert city of Palmyra, the Crac des Chevaliers crusader fortress and parts of old Damascus - have been affected.

The British-based Observatory, which has a network of activists across Syria, said Assad's forces and rebels were blaming each other for the blaze.

Activists also reported heavy clashes at Bab Antakya, a stone gateway to Aleppo's old city, which sits on ancient trade routes and has survived a parade of rulers throughout its construction between the 12th and 17th century.

Rebels said they had taken control of the gate, but some activists said the fighting there was continuing and neither side was truly in control.

By noon on Saturday, 40 people had been killed in fighting across Syria, according to the Observatory.

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Tags: civil war, Syria, Syrians, Free Syrian Army, Bashar Al-Assad, Syrian president, Aleppo, Damascus, UNESCO, World Heritage, arab spring, Souk al-Madina, rebels


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