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Friday, March 16, 2007

Syria: Plans to destroy Damascus' old city, dissidents warn

Damascus, 16 March (AKI) - Syrian dissidents, opposition forces and civil society groups plan to mobilise against what they say is a government approved scheme to demolish part of Damascus' Old City to make way for modern buildings. Sources have told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the project - allegedly headed by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad - will result in the forced removal of hundreds of families living in the Old City and the closure of many shops and markets.

Damascus whose origins date to before 3000 BC, is considered by many archaeologists to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with its rich history reflected in the architecture of its buildings, neighbourhoods and monuments.

Among the Old City's architectural gems are the Umayyad, one of the world's largest and oldest mosques, the Citadel of Damascus, the Bab Sharqi, an ancient street believed by many Christians to be the place were St. Paul underwent his conversion to Christianity, and the Souk Medhat Pasha, a famous covered market.

City authorities have given developers the go-ahead to knock down a stretch of buildings located in a 1,400 metre-long portion of the Old City which flanks the rampant wall that enclose it, dissident lawyer Razan Zaytouna told AKI.

The area extends from Bab al-Salam (the gate of peace), on the north boundary of the old city to the Bab Touma (the "Touma" or "Thomas gate") in the north-east corner, which leads to the Christian quarter of the same name.

The people living in the areas set to be demolished will be relocated outside Damascus in a settlement devoid of proper infrastructure, Zaytouna said.

If the demolition takes place Damascus' Old City risks losing its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, warn opponents who say they will organise protests and launch a media campaign to raise public awareness against the plan.
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