Syrian fighting destroys antiquities

One of the pictures taken from amateur video shows fire raging in Aleppo's covered market, the longest in the Middle East. The blaze over the weekend burned 500 shops. Other historical sites have been damaged by bombing or used as bases by soldiers or rebels.
One of the pictures taken from amateur video shows fire raging in Aleppo's covered market, the longest in the Middle East. The blaze over the weekend burned 500 shops. Other historical sites have been damaged by bombing or used as bases by soldiers or rebels. (Associated Press)
Posted: October 02, 2012

CAIRO - The pictures shown Monday at a gathering of Arab antiquities experts offered a glimpse into the damage Syria's civil war has wreaked on the heritage of one of the world's most ancient cities.

The wooden gates of Aleppo's medieval Citadel are gone, a stone engraving above it damaged. A bomb crater now marks the entrance, and its walls are pockmarked with bullet holes. A stump is all that remains of the minaret of the 14th-century al-Kiltawiya school. A rocket has crashed into el-Mihmandar Mosque, also built about 700 years ago.

The images, taken from amateur video filmed inside Aleppo, were shown at a gathering of antiquities experts from across the Middle East, who warned that Syria's 18-month-old conflict is wiping out its archaeological treasures.

"Syria is a museum of Islamic history," said Walid al-Akhras, professor of Islamic history and archaeology at Aleppo University.

Aleppo, where there have been settlements for more than 10,000 years, has been the site of fierce battles for more than two months between regime troops and rebel fighters that have brought relentless shelling and gun battles.

Over the weekend, a fire sparked by fighting tore through the city's centuries-old covered market. At 7.5 miles, it is the Middle East's longest souk. The fire consumed 500 shops, burning through wooden doors and scorching stalls and vaulted passageways.

The experts Monday, however, said the true extent of the damage in Aleppo and at historic sites around the country is still unknown because experts have not been able to get in to assess the damage.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 30,000 people, according to activists. Hundreds of thousands are seeking refuge outside the country, and entire towns have been destroyed by shelling.

"People haven't stopped crying over the lives lost and the bloodshed to begin crying over our lost heritage," said Akhras, who fled Aleppo.

Monday's emergency conference organized by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at Cairo University was intended to raise alarms over the destruction of antiquities around Syria. The Saudi-based organization has representatives from 50 Middle Eastern, African, and Asian nations.

Participants said that ultimately, the regime of President Bashar Assad is to blame for the destruction.

"The government is responsible first and last for the protection of antiquities," Akhras said.

Participants expressed concern over looting that has already taken place at museums and the continued shelling of ancient sites, including in Aleppo. Some of the country's most significant sites have been turned into bases for soldiers and rebels, including historic citadels and Turkish bath houses.

Egypt's antiquities minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, said the world "wants to avoid an Iraq scenario," when looters took some of that country's finest treasures during the U.S.-led military invasion in 2003.

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