Regime forces bomb UNESCO world heritage site

March 02, 2014

Last month, opposition activists released video of a regime warplane directly targeting Krak des Chevaliers, a medieval Crusader castle and UNESCO world heritage site in the village of al-Husn on the road between the central Syrian city of Homs and Tartus province on Syria’s western coast. Over the past year, Syrian government forces have entirely circled the Sunni town, which sits on a hilltop overlooking 73 pro-regime Christian and Alawite villages below. The Syrian military has repeatedly struck the castle with air raids, artillery fire and barrel bombs, inflicting heavy damage on it. In recent months, fighting in rural Homs province has edged closer to the 13th century castle, which is under opposition control but surrounded by mostly pro-Assad villages.

UNESCO has referred to the castle, which was constructed between 1142 and 1271, as one of the two most important examples “of fortified architecture in the Near East during the time of the Crusades.” Last year UNESCO added all six of Syria’s world heritage sites to its “endangered” World Heritage list.

castle On February 17 pro-opposition activists published video purporting to show regime air raids targeting Krak des Chevaliers. Photo courtesy of Abu Marwan al-Husni.

Abu Marwan is a reporter for pro-opposition Sham News Network based inside the village of al-Husn. He spoke with Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zeid to discuss the Syrian government’s repeated attacks on the historic castle, and citizens’ efforts to survive in the face of an 18-month regime blockade that has allowed no movement in or out of the town. “Summer is coming,” Abu Marwan says, “and then there won’t even be grass to eat.”

Q: How is the situation in the castle now? What is the situation of civilians in the city?

The castle lies in the western portion of Homs province. Al-Husn is surrounded by 73 pro-regime villages, but the village itself has been controlled by the opposition since the start of the revolution. The town has been under a suffocating blockade for a year and a half. Many residents have been displaced to Homs city, while others have fled elsewhere Homs province and to the coast.

The castle has been bombarded by the Syrian air force seven times, and a large part of it has been destroyed. The reason for the targeting is that the castle is under opposition control, although no rebels are inside the castle itself—they are spread out around the villages entrances.

Q: Have civilians used the castle as shelter from regime shelling?

A: No, because the regime is bombarding the castle—it considers it a strategic goal. Civilians are hiding in the basements of buildings, because many of the buildings in the village have up to 12 floors.

Q: You said the village has been blockaded for 18 months. How have residents been surviving?

We’ve always been a farming village, so we depended on our crops during the first period of the blockade. But when the regime’s bombardment intensified, we stopped being able to farm and started to eat grass. But summer is coming, and then there won’t even be grass to eat.

Q: Did you try to reach some settlement to stop the bombardment of the castle?

A: Yes, we communicated with UNESCO, but they did not respond. We didn’t benefit from them; I don’t think they could influence the regime. We also asked Professor Mysara Bakkour [Director of the Homs-based Republic Center for Research and Human Rights] to mediate an end to the shelling.

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