Violence rages near historic Syria mosque
Beirut: Combat raged near a historic mosque in the Syrian city of Aleppo today while anti-government activists reported fresh clashes near a police academy west of the city.
The fighting near the Umayyad Mosque in the walled Old City of Aleppo threated to further damage the 12th century structure, part of which was burned during clashes last year.
Since July 2011, government forces and rebels seeking to topple President Bashar Assad have been fighting over Aleppo, the country`s largest city and a major prize in the civil war.
While rebels have gradually expanded their control, fighting has left much of the city, considered one of Syria`s most beautiful, in ruins.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today that rebels clashed with government forces near the Umayyad Mosque amid intense gunfire and explosions.
Syria`s state news agency said "terrorists" had detonated explosives near the mosque`s wall, causing "material damages." Assad`s regime refers to the opposition as "terrorists."
The mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Aleppo, dates the 12th century and sits near a medieval covered market in Aleppo`s walled city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The mosque was heavily damaged in October, 2012, and a fire torched the market the month before.
Also today, activists reported fresh fighting near the police academy that has become a key government military installation west of the city.
The Observatory said the two sides were shelling each other`s positions while the government launched airstrikes in the area.
Video posted online in recent days shows rebel groups firing homemade rockets and mortars at the academy and blasting it with captured tanks. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded with other Associated Press reporting.
The Observatory said the dead in the last two days of fighting in the area included 26 rebel fighters, 40 soldiers and five pro-government militiamen.
The police academy, which activists say the government has turned into a military base, has recently emerged as a new front in the battle for Aleppo, Syria`s largest city.
Losing the police academy would make it more difficult for the regime to shell opposition areas and support its troops inside the city.
The fighting has largely destroyed Aleppo and caused humanitarian conditions for the city`s remaining civilians to plummet.
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