Yemen offensive threatens heritage site, warns International Red Cross


Yemen's historic city of Zabid is under threat as a government military offensive closes in, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Tuesday, calling on the warring sides to protect the site.

"The fighting in Hodeida governorate is at the gates of the historic city of Zabid, fanning fears for the fate of its cultural heritage," said Alexandre Faite, ICRC's head of delegation in Yemen.

Red Sea coastal site Zabid, which served as the capital of Yemen from the 13th to 15th centuries, is listed as a United Nations World Heritage Site for its unique architecture and deep connection to the spread of Islam.

The city, according to UNESCO, is home to the highest concentration of mosques in Yemen – among them one of the world's earliest mosques, built by a companion of Islam's Prophet Mohammed. It now lies on the fault lines of Yemen's modern war, as government forces backed by Saudi-led air strikes press an offensive along the Red Sea coast.

The offensive, which has been gathering momentum in recent months, is aimed at retaking the key port of Hodeida from the Houthi rebels. Zabid – under rebel control – lies on its path.

"The frontline is only kilometres from Zabid. Any destruction of cultural property there would mean that people, communities and all of humanity lose out," the ICRC's Faite said, calling on all parties to "protect and respect" the ancient city.

Yemen, rich in historic sites, has for years been embroiled in a bloody conflict between the Houthi rebels and a loosely aligned camp of government troops and separatist forces. The capital, Sanaa, fell to the Iran-backed rebels in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led intervention the following year.

More than 9,200 Yemenis have been killed in the fighting since, while tens of thousands have been wounded, according to the World Health Organisation.    (AFP)

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