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Significant 13th-Century Complex Bombed in Syria

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Rubble of Al-Sultaniyah Madrasa, December 7 (image via Kinana Allouche/Facebook)

Al-Sultaniyah Madrasa, established in 1223 and containing the tomb of Sultan Saladin’s son Sultan Malik al-Zaher, appears to have been destroyed. And it seems to have been military rather than sectarian destruction.

First, there were reports of violence amongst internationally-significant monuments. The Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution tweeted that rebels had blown up a regime building near the mosque near the citadel in the Ancient City of Aleppo, one of Syria’s already-ravaged UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Then, AinSyria confirmed news of a “massive explosion” in the same area. Later, Al Mayadeen TV also reported that there had been a blast near a mosque, in a tunnel near the citadel, during a battle between the Assad regime and unidentified gunmen, though it illustrated its report with an image from the aftermath of battles outside Damascus in September.

In the meantime, Halab Today TV had reported claims that, during their operations against rebel forces, regime forces had blown up parts of Al-Sultaniyah Mosque. El Dorar reported likewise, though it illustrated its report with an image of regime shelling in Latakia in October 2012.

Archaeology in Syria (AinSyria) reported the detonation of al Sultaniah Mosque/Al-Sultaniyah Madrasa, which is also known as the Madrasaa al Zahiriah. AinSyria also linked to photographer Daniel Demeter’s guide to the site, which provided its map location and comparison photos and Wikimapia’s satellite image.

Contrarily, later that evening, Al Mjhar, Al Akhbar and a Syrian journalist in Aleppo, Edward Dark, shared photos of the Sultanieh Mosque that “rebels blew up.” Al Mjhar, Al Akhbar and Al Watan specified that the damage to the madrasa was collateral damage from rebel forces’ bombing of the tunnel.

Dark shared one of Aleppo-based journalist Kinana Allouche’s photographs of the ruins. Though it was not possible to securely identify the location of the madrasa from the features in her photos of the area, the regular array of palm trees in one of Allouche’s photos resembles a regular array of trees that are next to the madrasa in DigitalGlobe’s satellite image of the area, which are not apparent elsewhere in the surroundings of the citadel. So it seems, at least, that she was at the site of the explosion.

By the morning of the 8th, the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), which operates in regime territory, had assessed that the explosion had caused “significant damage” to the structure. Al Khabar specified that the rebel forces were members of Islamic Front — though, at the moment, responsibility is being attributed rather than claimed — and said that the Sufi site had been “reduced to rubble,” which would explain the lack of identifiable features in Allouche’s photo report from the scene.

Just a few days ago, despite the grotesque failure of the UN’s human safe zones of Srebrenica and Gorazde during the Bosnian War, UNESCO had promoted a plan for peace-building “protected cultural zones” or “no-strike zones” in Syria. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova had announced, “I believe that the Umayyad mosque,” which itself is already severely damaged, “located within the World Heritage site of the old city of Aleppo, could and should be our starting point. It is not too late to take action.” With every passing day, it seems more and more like it is.

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