BEIRUT – A landmark mosque in Aleppo was burned, scarred by bullets and trashed – the latest casualty of Syria’s civil war – and President Bashar Assad on Monday ordered immediate repairs to try to stem Muslim outrage at the desecration of the 12th-century site.
The Umayyad Mosque suffered extensive damage, as has the nearby medieval covered market, or souk, which was gutted by a fire that was sparked by fighting two weeks ago. The market and the mosque are centerpieces of Aleppo’s walled Old City, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Government troops had been holed up in the mosque for months before rebels launched a push this week to drive them out. Activists and Syrian government officials blamed each other for the weekend fire at the mosque.
Rebel supporters also alleged that regime forces defaced the shrine with offensive graffiti and drank alcohol inside, charges bound to further raise religious tensions in Syria. Many of the rebels are Sunni Muslims, while the regime is dominated by Alawites, or followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
“It’s all blackened now,” activist Mohammad al-Hassan said of the site, also known as the Great Mosque. One of Syria’s oldest and largest shrines, it was built around a vast courtyard and enclosed in a compound adjacent to the ancient citadel.
Al-Hassan said the army had been using the mosque as a base because of its strategic location in the Old City and he blamed Assad for the destruction.