Blast dam­ages her­itage site

At least five in­tri­cate tower-houses in the Old City of Ye­men’s cap­i­tal are de­stroyed.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Zaid al-Alayaa and Laura King laura.king@la­times.com Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Al-Alayaa re­ported from Sana and Times staff writer King from Cairo. Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Amro Has­san in Cairo con­trib­uted to this re­port.

SANA, Ye­men — 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 Saudiled 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 in­terna- tional 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 de­struc­tion in what was al­ready the Arab world’s poor­est coun­try. But the at­tacks have failed to dis­lodge the Houthis from the cap­i­tal or the strate­gic south­ern port city of Aden.

Saudi Ara­bia, the re­gion’s main Sunni Mus­lim power, views the Houthi in­sur­gency as in­spired by Shi­ite Mus­lim Iran. The Tehran gov­ern­ment de­nies arm­ing the rebels and has bit­terly de­nounced the air war.

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 strikes 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.

UNESCO’s direc­tor-gen­eral, Irina Bokova, said she was “pro­foundly dis­tressed” by the loss of life as well as “the images of th­ese mag­nif­i­cent many-sto­ried tower-houses and serene gar­dens re­duced to rub­ble.”

She called on all par­ties to pro­tect Ye­men’s his­toric and cul­tural sites, sev­eral of which had al­ready been dam­aged. Those in­clude the ar­ti­fact-filled Na­tional Mu­seum in Dhamar, which was f lat­tened, ac­cord­ing to UNESCO.

“This her­itage bears the soul of the Ye­meni peo­ple. It is a sym­bol of the mil­len­nial his­tory of knowl­edge, and it be­longs to all mankind,” Bokova said.

The Old City has been in­hab­ited for more than 2,500 years and was cel­e­brated as a cen­ter of trade and the flow­er­ing of Is­lam.

Shaif Shareb, a gov­ern­ment worker who lives in the quar­ter, was dis­traught.

“The airstrikes won’t kill Houthis; this war is killing all Ye­me­nis,” he said.

Air raids Fri­day tar­geted Sana’s Baqim dis­trict, killing at least 12 peo­ple, the Health Min­istry said. Strikes also hit north­ern Saada prov­ince, a Houthi strong­hold, and ground fight­ing raged in sev­eral lo­cales, in­clud­ing Aden and en­ergy-rich Marib prov­ince.

Ba­sic sur­vival has be­come a daily strug­gle, with fuel, food and med­i­cal sup­plies low be­cause of an air and sea block­ade meant to pre­vent weapons from reach­ing the Houthis.

Ac­cess to health­care has been cur­tailed as hos­pi­tals close be­cause of power out­ages and lack of sup­plies and san­i­ta­tion, and chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar are threat­ened by out­breaks of dis­ease.

Hani Mo­hammed As­so­ci­ated Press

RES­CUERS carry a man pulled from the rub­ble of houses de­stroyed by an ex­plo­sion in the an­cient dis­trict of Sana, Ye­men’s cap­i­tal. Rebels blamed Saudi Ara­bia, which de­nied mak­ing an airstrike on the Old City.

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