The minaret of one of Syria’s most famous mosques has been destroyed during clashes in the northern city of Aleppo. According to the BBC, images on the internet now show a pile of rubble in its place.
Syrian state news agency Sana has accused rebels of blowing up the 11th-Century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque, while activists say the minaret was hit by Syrian army tank fire.
The mosque is a Unesco world heritage site, described as “one of the most beautiful mosques in the Muslim world”. Last October, the heritage organization appealed for the protection of the site.
The structure in the old city of Aleppo dates was founded in the year 715 by the Umayyad dynasty on the site of a Byzantine church, and was later damaged by both fire in 1159 and the Mongol invasion in 1260.
However, the surviving part was the 45m-high minaret, which dated back to 1090 AD. A report by Sana blamed the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group. It quoted a government source saying that “terrorists… placed explosive materials in the minaret and the mosque’s southern door and set them off”.
However, Aleppo-based activist Mohammed al-Khatib, quoted by AP news agency, said a tank shell had “totally destroyed” the 45m (148ft) minaret.
The mosque has suffered extensive damage during months of fighting, both to its antique furnishings and its intricately sculpted colonnades.
Artefacts, including a box purported to contain a strand of the Prophet Muhammad’s hair, are also reported to have been looted. Rebels say they have salvaged ancient handwritten Koranic manuscripts and hidden them.