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Historic minaret destroyed in latest clash in Syria

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

War makes no distinction when it comes to landmarks or culturally and historically significant structures. Centuries old buildings and monuments have all been snatched up into the flames of war and have been completely destroyed without a moment's thought. This has been the fate of Syria's Umayyad Mosque's minaret, in the city of Aleppo, reduced to rubble by tank fire.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Syria's state news agency Sana has accused rebels of blowing up the 11th-Century minaret. Activists, in response say the minaret was hit by Syrian army tank fire.

A UNESCO world heritage site, the mosque has been in rebel hands since earlier this year. The area around it is still contested. The mosque was badly damaged by fire during heavy fighting in the Old City in October of last year. UNESCO appealed at that time for the protection of the site, which it described as "one of the most beautiful mosques in the Muslim world."

The minaret is now little more than bricks, mortar and dust in the mosque's tiled courtyard.

The Great Mosque, at the heart of the Old City of Aleppo, was founded by the Umayyad dynasty in 715 on the site of a Byzantine church. The mosque had to be rebuilt after being damaged by a fire in 12th Century, and again following the Mongol invasion in 1260.

Other parts of the mosque complex have been recently damaged by gunfire and shell hits.

Sana reported that fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group had destroyed the once famous landmark, quoting an official source saying that "terrorists... placed explosive materials in the minaret and the mosque's southern door and set them off."

Aleppo-based activist Mohammed al-Khatib said a tank shell had "totally destroyed" the 148-foot minaret.

Reports note that some ancient artifacts have also been looted, including a box purported to contain a strand of the Prophet Muhammad's hair. Rebels claim that they had salvaged ancient handwritten Koranic manuscripts and hidden them.

Rebels and government forces had reportedly clashed near Aleppo as they fought for control of a military airbase. Rebels took a key military position outside the Minnigh airport and launched another raid, according to opposition activists with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The rebels, who have laid siege to the airport for months now, entered it for the first time around dawn," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the UK-based activist group said.

Losing control of the airport would be a strategic blow for the government, analysts say.

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