A centuries-old Syrian marketplace that is a both a major tourist attraction and a source of cultural pride burned down on Saturday after combatants in that country's protracted civil war took to the narrow streets of Aleppo, an ancient commercial capital.
The burning of the Medina souk, a Unuesco World Heritage Site, was the latest cultural tragedy to befall the war-torn nation, where battles between the Assad regime and rebels have intensified in recent days as the government has adopted incrementally more hard-line strategies, reportedly executing captured enemies and intensifying its campaign of indiscriminate urban shelling.
“It’s a big loss and a tragedy that the old city has now been affected,” Kishore Rao, director of Unesco’s World Heritage Centre, told Dubai-based Gulf News by telephone.
Sadly, the destruction of the timeless landmark appeared to have been for nought, as various media sources reported the fighting that sparked the blaze as "deadlocked." Amateur videos of the fighting posted online show rebel and government soldiers unable to advance in a challenging urban scenario of labyrinthine alleys and narrow streets, but instead spraying the facade of buildings in the city center with shrapnel and fire.
"No one is actually making gains here, it is just fighting and more fighting, and terrified people are fleeing," an activist contacted by Reuters said via telephone.
It was not immediately clear how the fire in the market started, but activists accused government forces of using incendiary bullets to attack rebels who had taken up positions there after launching a new offensive in the city on Thursday, Reuters reported.
"The fighters tried to put out the fire but failed to do so because snipers were shooting at them," another activist said.
"The fire is still raging and at least 1,500 shops have now been burnt down."