Historic Syrian mosque disfigured

Updated 26 April 2013
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Historic Syrian mosque disfigured

BEIRUT: The minaret of a landmark 12th century mosque in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo was destroyed yesterday, leaving the once-soaring stone tower a pile of rubble and twisted metal scattered in the tiled courtyard.
President Bashar Assad's regime and anti-government activists traded blame for the destruction to the Umayyad Mosque, which occurred in the heart Aleppo's walled Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It was the second time in just over a week that a historic mosque in Syria has been seriously damaged. Mosques served as a launching pad for anti-government protests in the early days of the country's 2-year-old uprising, and many have been targeted.
Syrian's state news agency SANA said rebels from the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al-Nusra group blew it up, while Aleppo-based activist Mohammed Al-Khatib said a Syrian army tank fired a shell that "totally destroyed" the minaret.
The mosque fell into rebel hands earlier this year after heavy fighting that damaged the historic compound. The area around it, however, remains contested. Syrian troops are about 200 meters (yards) away.
An amateur video posted online by the anti-government Aleppo Media Center activist group showed the mosque's archways, charred from earlier fighting, and a pile of rubble where the minaret used to be.
Standing inside the mosque's courtyard, a man who appears to be a rebel fighter says regime forces recently fired seven shells at the minaret but failed to knock it down. He said that yesterday the tank rounds struck their target.
"We were standing here today and suddenly shells started hitting the minaret," the man says. "They (the army) then tried to storm the mosque but we pushed them back."
The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting of the events depicted. The destruction in Aleppo follows a similar incident in the southern city of Daraa, where the minaret of the historic Omari Mosque was destroyed more than a week ago. The Daraa mosque was built during the Islamic conquest of Syria in the days of Caliph Omar ibn Al-Khattab in the seventh century.
In that instance as well, the opposition and regime blamed each other for the damage. SANA also accused Jabhat Al-Nusra of positioning cameras around the area to record the event in that case.
Syria's civil war, with the use of everything from small arms to artillery and warplanes, poses a grave threat to the country's rich cultural heritage.
Last year, the medieval market in Aleppo, which is located near the Umayyad Mosque, was gutted by fire sparked by fighting last year.
Both rebels and regime forces have turned some of Syria's significant historic sites into bases, including citadels and Turkish bath houses, while thieves have stolen artifacts from museums.
Five of Syria's six World Heritage sites have been damaged in the fighting, according to UNESCO, the UN's cultural agency. Looters have broken into one of the world's best-preserved Crusader castles, Crac des Chevaliers, and ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra have been damaged.
The damage is just part of the wider devastation caused by the country's crisis, which began more than two years ago with largely peaceful protests but morphed into a civil war as the opposition took up arms in the face of a withering government crackdown. The fighting has exacted a huge toll on the country, killing more than 70,000 people, laying waste to cities, towns and villages and forcing more than a million people to flee their homes and seek refuge abroad.
Aleppo has been carved into rebel- and regime-held zones, while Damascus remains firmly in government hands, although the rebels have established a foothold in the suburbs and hope to use their enclaves there to eventually push into the city itself.
Yesterday, two mortar rounds slammed into the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, killing at least seven people and wounding dozens, state media and activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the shells hit near a municipality building and a school in Jaramana. The Observatory, which relies on reports from a network of activists on the ground, said 10 people were killed and 30 were wounded in the attacks.
Syrian state-run SANA news agency said seven people were killed in the attack.
The differences in the death tolls could not be immediately reconciled.
Also yesterday, Syrian church officials said the whereabouts of two bishops kidnapped in northern Syria remain unknown, a day after telling reporters the priests had been released.
Gunmen pulled Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church from their car and killed their driver on Monday while they were traveling outside Aleppo. It was not clear who abducted the priests.
Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said Wednesday that activists in the area where the kidnapping took place say the gunmen were foreign fighters from the Caucuses.
However, the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, condemned the kidnapping and blamed Assad's regime.
There has been a spike in kidnappings in northern Syria, much of which is controlled by the rebels, and around Damascus in recent months. Residents blame criminal groups that have ties to both the regime and the rebels for the abductions of wealthy residents traveling to Syria from neighboring Turkey and Lebanon.


Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

Syrian children are pictured at a refugee camp in the village of Mhammara in the northern Lebanese Akkar region on March 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

  • Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon
  • Jan Kubis: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible

BEIRUT: Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about reports that Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon face torture and murder.

This coincides with a debate in Lebanon about whether Syrian refugees should return without waiting for a political solution to the conflict in their country. 

UN Special Coordinator Jan Kubis stressed after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday the “urgent need to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees home, according to international humanitarian norms.” 

Kubis added: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible. Another very important message was also to support the host communities here in Lebanon.”

Mireille Girard, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Monday said: “The reconstruction process in Syria may not be enough to attract refugees to return. We are working to identify the reasons that will help them to return.”

She added: “The arrival of aid to the refugees is an element of trust that helps them to return. Their dignity and peaceful living must be ensured.”

Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumdjian said the Lebanese General Security “issued lists containing the names of refugees wishing to return to their homes, but the Syrian regime accepted only about 20 percent of them.”

He added: “The solution is to call on the international community to put pressure on Russia, so that Moscow can exert pressure on (Syrian President) Bashar Assad’s regime to show goodwill and invite Syrian refugees to return to their land without conditions, procedures, obstacles and laws that steal property and land from them.”

Lebanese Education Minister Akram Chehayeb said: “The problem is not reconstruction and infrastructure, nor the economic and social situation. The main obstacle is the climate of fear and injustice in Syria.”

He added: “There are 215,000 Syrian students enrolled in public education in Lebanon, 60,000 in private education, and there are informal education programs for those who have not yet attended school to accommodate all children under the age of 18.” 

Chehayeb said: “As long as the displacement crisis continues, and as long as the (Assad) regime’s decision to prevent the (refugees’) return stands … work must continue to absorb the children of displaced Syrians who are outside education to protect Lebanon today and Syria in the future.”