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Syria warns rebels' bid to target Aleppo's ancient citadel

DAMASCUS, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- Syria's tourism minister Bishr Yazagi on Friday warned against rebels' possible attacks on a 4500- year-old historical site in the country's northern city of Aleppo.

Yazagi said the rebels in Aleppo city are digging tunnels under the old city as part of their preparations to launch attacks on an ancient citadel, adding that "This crime could be the crime of the century."

He said that his ministry has extended many letters to organizations that are specialized in historical sites to stress the need to prevent rebels from terrorist activities in the city.

The remarks came after the rebels' previous bombings that targeted ancient sites in Aleppo. The armed militant groups booby- trapped tunnels underneath the old Carlton Hotel and the Court House, blowing them off completely.

The rebels' pretext was that the flattened structures had been occupied by government troops, according to activists.

In its annual report on the status-quo of archaeological sites, the General Directorate of Syria's Antiquities and Museums (DGMA), the government's arm to protect and promote all national heritage, focused on what had befallen the archeological sites in Aleppo, pointing out that some incidents, including the destruction of the minaret of the Umayyad Mosque, which is one of the most important archaeological mosques in Syria.

It said that hundreds of shops in the markets of the old Aleppo city were burned and the entrance of Aleppo's citadel and its northern tower were damaged by the clashes there.

The report also shed light on the illegal excavation by antiquities thieves whose work has thrived during the country's long-running crisis.

Global Heritage Fund's director of Global Projects, Dan Thompson, said earlier this year that "all of the country's world heritage sites have sustained damage and a great many of the other monuments in the country have been damaged, destroyed or have been subject to severe looting."

UNESCO, UN's cultural agency, believes that five of Syria's six World Heritage Sites, which include the ancient desert city of Palmyra, the Crac des Chevaliers crusader fortress and parts of old Damascus, were affected by the ongoing armed conflict.

The DGMA also stressed that several museums and archaeological cities in Syria were pillaged of treasures or partially damaged.

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