President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have surrounded rebels near the already war-damaged Crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers, a UNESCO World Heritage site in central Syria, residents said on Wednesday.
Crac des Chevaliers, built by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in the 12th-13th centuries and among the best-preserved examples of the Crusader castles, suffered mortar hits last year when rebels from the town of al-Hosn below the hill-top castle hid behind its thick stone walls, built for battles hundreds of years ago. The violence had died down until this week.
Syria’s nearly three-year-old conflict has devastated whole city neighborhoods and many ancient sites, including Aleppo’s medieval covered market and its Umayyad mosque. Looting has threatened tombs in the desert town of Palmyra and Roman temples have been damaged.
Crac des Chevaliers, perched on a mountain in central Homs province, was almost intact at the start of the Syrian war. It repelled waves of medieval offensives but has been no match for modern mortar and artillery.
On Tuesday, rocket, artillery and tank fire battered the town of al-Zara, not far from al-Hosn, a resident of al-Zara said, asking not to be named. Warplanes later bombed the area between al-Zara and al-Hosn, targeting rebels there, he said.