On Friday an explosion tore through the old city district of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, destroying part of the 2,500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site. A number of apartment buildings were leveled, scattering rubble and debris into an adjacent garden. Many have attributed the attack, in which at least six civilians were killed, to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has denied responsibility for the explosion, as have the Houthi rebels, according to the New York Times.
“I am profoundly distressed by the loss of human lives as well as by the damage inflicted on one of the world’s oldest jewels of Islamic urban landscape,” Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general, said in a statement on Friday. “I am shocked by the images of these magnificent multi-storied tower-houses and serene gardens reduced to rubble. This destruction will only exacerbate the humanitarian situation and I reiterate my call to all parties to respect and protect cultural heritage in Yemen.”
The attack comes just as talks on the crisis in Yemen, organized by the United Nations, began today in Geneva, Al Jazeera reports. Representatives for the Houthi rebels, the General Peoples’ Congress — former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party — and the exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are expected to attend. “The region simply cannot sustain another open wound like Syria and Libya,” said UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
The fortified old city of Sana’a has been inhabited for some 2,500 years, and its distinctive, multistory apartment buildings made of rammed earth date back to before the 11th century. Prior to the destruction wrought by the Yemen’s ongoing civil war, the area included over 6,000 homes, 100 mosques, and 10 hammams (baths). It was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list in 1986.