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Minaret Of Iconic Syrian Mosque Destroyed In Fighting

The latest casualty of the Syrian war: the minaret of the famed 11th century Umayyad Mosque, a UNESCO world heritage site.

The minaret collapsed Wednesday amid fighting between government troops and Syrian rebels in the ancient city of Aleppo.

Each side accused the other of being responsible for the damage. In a statement, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed her deep distress over the destruction.

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

The mosque had been damaged during fighting in the ancient city in October 2012. As Rasha Elass reported on NPR's All Things Considered at that time, the mosque has a storied history:

"It dates back at least to Hellenistic times, and it served as a temple to the Aramaic god of rain. Later, it became a Roman temple, then a church and, finally, early in the 8th century, a mosque — one of the most important sites in the Muslim world today."

Modern Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, has been badly affected by Syria's civil war. As NPR's Deborah Amos reported last month, the city "now suffers from shortages of water, flour and electricity and widespread destruction. Disease is rampant because of festering piles of garbage.

"President Bashar Assad's military launches bombing runs and ballistic missile strikes almost daily."

Syria is home to six sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. An earlier UNESCO statement noted that some of the other sites had also been damaged.

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