Crac des Chevaliers, built by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in the 12th-13th centuries. (Reuters)
As the Syrian War rages on, Assad forces have surrounded rebel forces near the Crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers.
Syrian forces already damaged the 12th century castle last year in a bombing.
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.
Although fighting has inched closer to Crac des Chevaliers, the castle has not been hit during the two-day-old offensive by troops and local pro-Assad militiamen besieging al-Hosn.
A fighter from the National Defence Forces, an Assad loyalist paramilitary group, said the offensive aimed to secure a gas pipeline which runs through al-Zara and which was attacked by rebels in December to disrupt supplies.