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Syrian battle destroys mosque minaret, horrifying archaeologists

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

The 11th-century minaret of a famed mosque that towered over the narrow stone alleyways of Aleppo's old quarter collapsed on Wednesday as rebels and government troops fought pitched battles in the streets around it, depriving the ancient Syrian city of one of its most important landmarks.

President Bashar Assad's government and the rebels trying to overthrow him traded blame over the destruction to the Umayyad Mosque, a UNESCO world heritage site and centerpiece of Aleppo's walled Old City.

“This is like blowing up the Taj Mahal or destroying the Acropolis in Athens. This mosque is a living sanctuary,” said Helga Seeden, a professor of archaeology at the American University of Beirut. “This is a disaster. In terms of heritage, this is the worst I've seen in Syria. I'm horrified.”

Aleppo, Syria's largest city and a commercial hub, emerged as a key battleground in the nation's civil war in the summer. Since then, the fighting has carved the city into rebel- and regime-held zones, killed thousands, forced even more to flee their homes and laid waste to entire neighborhoods.

The Umayyad Mosque complex suffered damage in October, and now the once-soaring stone tower is a pile of rubble and twisted metal scattered in the mosque's tiled courtyard.

“What is happening is a big shame,” said Imad a-Khal, a 59-year-old Christian businessman. “Thousands of tourists used to visit this site. Every day is a black day for Syrians.”

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