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Minaret destroyed at 12th-century Syrian mosque on World Heritage list

By Michael Martinez and Hamdi Alkhshali , CNN
April 25, 2013 -- Updated 1530 GMT (2330 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The minaret is destroyed at the 12th-century Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo
  • The mosque is on the United Nation's World Heritage List
  • Opposition groups blame government forces for destroying the landmark
  • The government blames a terror group linked to al Qaeda

(CNN) -- Both sides in Syria's civil war were in rare agreement Wednesday: The minaret at a 12th-century mosque in Aleppo has been obliterated.

Unclear, however, was who destroyed the tower at the Great Umayyad Mosque, which has witnessed the march of nine centuries. It was just last month that a United Nations official expressed concern about the two-year war possibly damaging the mosque, a World Heritage site.

An opposition group blamed the government.

"Regime forces have committed today a new crime against human and cultural heritage by targeting the minaret of the mosque and completely destroying it," the Local Coordination Committees said. The group released a photograph of the mosque without its signature minaret, apparently reduced to rubble.

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The Syrian Coalition also blamed President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"Today, the Assad regime committed a new crime against history and civilization, as they destroy(ed) the minaret of the Great Mosque of Aleppo. The minaret was hit by tank shells and was shattered to the ground," the coalition said in a statement.

"The Assad regime has done all that they can to destroy the social fabric of Syria," it added.

The Syrian government, however, blamed one rebel group, Jabhet al-Nusra, for blowing up the minaret. The jihadist al-Nusra Front in Syria has been linked to al Qaeda in Iraq.

"Terrorists from Jabhet al-Nusra detonated explosives in one of the minarets" at the Great Umayyad Mosque, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Wednesday. "An official source told SANA that terrorists placed highly explosive materials in the minaret and the mosque's southern door and set them off."

The agency also reported Wednesday that government forces launched special operations against "Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists in the Aleppo countryside." An official source told the state-run agency that those maneuvers "resulted in destroying many of their dens and gatherings."

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