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.”


Yemen president accuses UN envoy Griffiths of siding with Houthis

Updated 3 min 6 sec ago
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Yemen president accuses UN envoy Griffiths of siding with Houthis

SANAA, Yemen: Yemen’s internationally recognized president sent a letter to the UN chief, criticizing his envoy to the war-torn Arab country over allegedly siding with Iran-aligned Houthi militia, the president’s office said Friday.
In the letter addressed to Antonio Guterres, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi accused Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy to Yemen, of undermining chances for peace. Hadi also warns his government would stop dealing with the UN envoy.
“I can no longer tolerate the violations committed by the special envoy, which threaten prospects for a solution,” read the five-page letter, a copy of which was released to reporters Thursday.
It also accuses Griffiths of treating the militia as a "de-facto government and as an equal to the legitimate and elected government” of Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthi rebels. A coalition of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, allied with Hadi’s government, has been fighting the Houthis since March 2015.
The fighting has killed an estimated 60,000 people and left millions suffering from lack of food and medical care.
Tensions arose between Griffiths and Hadi last week after the UN announced the long-delayed Houthi withdrawal from the flashpoint port city of Hodeidah.
Hadi’s government accused Griffiths at the time of turning a blind eye that the militants had allegedly only handed control of the port to “militia leaders” loyal to them. The “redeployment of Houthis” from Hodeidah was part of a UN-brokered deal concluded in December.
Hadi went on to say that Griffiths’s “poor understanding” of the Yemeni conflict makes him unfit for his post.
While briefing the UN Security Council on the situation in Yemen last week, Griffiths urged the warring sides to maintain the momentum of the Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah — the country’s lifeline to foreign aid — and to work urgently on a political solution to the devastating conflict.
There were “signs of hope” but “also alarming signs” that could threaten progress, Griffiths said, a reference to continuing clashes in the southern Dhale province.
Later Friday, Houthi leader Mohamed Ali Al-Houthi tweeted that Hadi’s letter to the UN chief was “a miserable attempt to curtail peace.”