Minaret of famed mosque in Syria destroyed

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BEIRUT -- The 11th-century minaret of a mosque that towered over the narrow stone alleyways of Aleppo's old quarter collapsed yesterday as rebels and government troops fought pitched battles in the streets around it, depriving the ancient Syrian city of an important landmark.

President Bashar Assad's government and the rebels trying to overthrow him traded blame over the destruction to the Omayyad Mosque, a UNESCO world heritage site and centerpiece of Aleppo's walled Old City.

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

Aleppo, Syria's largest city and a commercial hub, emerged as a key battleground in the nation's civil war after rebels launched an offensive there last summer. Since then, the fighting has carved the city into rebel- and regime-held zones, killed thousands of people, forced thousands more to flee their homes and laid waste to entire neighborhoods. -- AP

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