Explosion in Yemeni Capital Damages UNESCO World Heritage Site

yemen-blast-damages-unesco-site

At least one blast struck the famed ancient quarter of Yemen’s capital before dawn Friday, destroying centuries-old structures that had been considered jewels of traditional Islamic architecture.

The intricately crafted tower-houses of Sana’s Old City, adorned with fanciful geometric patterns, are a UNESCO world heritage site. The cultural agency expressed deep dismay over the destruction of at least five of them.

At least six people were killed, with women and children among the injured, Yemeni officials said.

An 11-week-old Saudi-led air offensive in Yemen, targeting Shiite Muslim Houthi rebels, has killed more than 2,200 people, displaced about 1 million, and left 80% of the country’s 25 million people in need of aid, according to international organizations.

Yemen’s Houthi-run news agency blamed the Saudi-led coalition for the campaign’s first direct strike on Sana’s old Qasimi quarter. However, the chief Saudi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, denied that the coalition had bombed the Old City, the Saudi-owned news channel Al Arabiya reported and suggested that a rebel arms dump might have blown up.

“Residential buildings there are not suitable for storing weapons, and that is probably why the explosion occurred,” he said.

The airstrikes, whose stated aim is to restore to power exiled President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, have caused vast destruction in what was already the Arab world’s poorest country. However, the attacks have failed to dislodge the Houthis from the capital or the strategic southern port city of Aden. Hadi, who fled Yemen in March, is in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, the region’s main Sunni Muslim power, views the Houthi insurgency as inspired by the Saudis’ Shiite rival, Iran. The Tehran government denies arming the rebels and has bitterly denounced the air war, for which the United States has provided logistical support.

Sana fell to the Houthis nine months ago. Airstrikes in the capital have pounded bases and weapons caches belonging to the insurgents and their allies, often hitting nearby residential areas as well. Previous bombardment near the historic quarter had damaged some structures, but caused far less destruction than Friday’s blasts.

Friday’s destruction came two days before U.N.-brokered talks were to begin in Geneva aimed at halting the fighting, though officials indicated the start of indirect negotiations could be delayed by at least a day.

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SOURCE: LA Times, Zaid Al-Alayaa and Laura King