Fighters seize historic Aleppo mosque

Updated 02 March 2013
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Fighters seize historic Aleppo mosque

BEIRUT: Fighters seized control of the historic Umayyad Mosque in Syria’s second city of Aleppo yesterday after several days of fierce clashes that damaged the building, a watchdog reported.
State news agency SANA, meanwhile, said a car bomb exploded in a regime-held suburb of the central city of Homs, killing a number of people and wounding others.
In Aleppo, regime troops were forced to withdraw from the mosque at dawn, taking up positions in buildings around the landmark structure, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The mosque’s museum caught fire during the battle, causing its ceiling to collapse, adding to damage done in October when one of its intricately sculpted colonnades was charred in clashes.
Aleppo’s director of Islamic endowments said the mosque’s library, which contains “valuable Islamic relics and Qur'anic manuscripts dating back to pre-Mamluk times,” had been ransacked and destroyed.
“Armed terrorist groups have looted and completely destroyed the Islamic library, which is one of the most valuable in the region with an estimated value of hundreds of thousands of Syrian pounds,” Abdel Qader Al-Shihabi told AFP.
The site has been a place of worship since the 8th century, but the original building was razed by the Mongols in the 13th century, from when the current structure dates.
Elsewhere in Aleppo’s UNESCO-listed Old City, fighting raged around the Justice Palace.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said that if the fighters gain control of the palace, they would be able to cut off army reinforcements to Aleppo’s regime-held citadel.
While fighters have taken over large swathes of territory and a number of key military garrisons in Aleppo province, fighting in the city has been at stalemate for months.
Further north yesterday, airstrikes targeted fighter positions around Menegh military airbase, which has been under protracted siege as the opposition battles for control of Aleppo’s major airports.
Warplanes also carried out several raids in the northern province of Raqa.
And fierce clashes erupted in Damascus on the outskirts of opposition-held Jobar district in the east and near the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in the south, said the Observatory.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s interior minister said yesterday that refugees who have fled from the war in neighboring Syria have become a threat to Lebanon’s security because of the suspicion that many are in fact fighters.
Residents in northern Lebanon say that fighters pose as refugees to cross the border, and are arming members of the refugee community in Lebanon to fight in Syria. The minister, Marwan Charbel, has said Syrian fighters have set up training camps in Lebanon.
In addition, members of the Free Syrian Army have used Lebanon’s mountainous terrain to regroup before staging attacks on the Syrian Army across the poorly demarcated border.
“What is concerning me is the security situation,” Charbel said at a joint news conference with the United Nations Development Programme. “Who is exploiting (the Syrian refugees)? Who is arming them? We are not controlling them.”


UN presents new plan for Yemen pullback from Hodeidah

Updated 52 min 31 sec ago
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UN presents new plan for Yemen pullback from Hodeidah

  • The redeployment of forces was agreed in December under a ceasefire deal reached in Sweden that offered the best hope in years of moving toward an end to the war
  • The UN envoy's statement did not give a date for the start of the pullback, which would mark the first step towards de-escalation

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations will present a new plan for the pullback of forces from Yemen's flashpoint city of Hodeidah following talks with the government and the Houthis, a UN envoy said Tuesday.
The redeployment of forces was agreed in December under a ceasefire deal reached in Sweden that offered the best hope in years of moving toward an end to the war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
"Following constructive discussions with both parties, there is significant progress towards an agreement to implement phase one of the redeployments of the Hodeida agreement," said a statement from Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy for Yemen.
"Operational details will be presented to the parties in the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) for endorsement shortly," he added.
The UN envoy's statement did not give a date for the start of the pullback, which would mark the first step towards de-escalation.
Griffiths said he "looks forward to the swift endorsement of the plan."
The United Nations announced a deal on the two-stage pullback from Hodeidah city and its ports on February 17, but the redeployment failed to materialize on the ground.
UN diplomats said the Houthis were refusing to pull away from the ports as part of the first stage. 
Griffiths and head of the RCC, Danish General Michael Lollesgaard, have been holding talks with all sides to overcome the final hurdles.
The Red Sea port of Hodeidah is the entry point for the bulk of imported goods and relief aid to Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world's worst humanitarian conflict.