Mortar fire in front of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of the oldest mosques in the world, has left four people dead and 26 wounded, Syrian state media has reported.
The shells fell on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer when people traditionally go to mosque at noon for the weekly sermon.
|Children were among the wounded [EPA]
“Mortars fired by terrorists in front of the Umayyad mosque have killed four people and injured 26,” state television said in a breaking news alert.
The shelling near the mosque in the old quarter of the capital came 10 days after a mortar shell hit its wall, causing casualties.
Dozens of shells have struck the historic city centre and surrounding areas in the past two weeks, launched from rebel-held neighbourhoods on the outskirts.
More than 120,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
Heritage under threat
The construction of the mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, was completed in 715. It houses a shrine that historians say may still contain the head of John the Baptist, honoured as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims alike.
There has been growing concern about the impact the conflict is having on Syria’s cultural heritage.
|The construction of Umayyad Mosque in Damascus was completed in 715 [Getty Images]
In June, the UN’s cultural organisation (UNESCO) added six ancient sites in the country to the endangered World Heritage list.
One of the sites on the list is the Old City in Aleppo, which has suffered considerable damage since battles between regime troops and rebels there reached new heights in July 2012.
In April, the minaret of Aleppo’s own Umayyad mosque – originally built in the 8th century and then rebuilt in the 13th century – was destroyed.
Clandestine excavations, including looting of ancient tombs and grave sites, have also been reported at several of the sites, according to UNESCO.
The other sites added to the endangered World Heritage list were the ancient cities of Damascus and Bosra, the oasis of Palmyra, the castles of Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din – also known as the Fortress of Saladin – and the ancient villages of northern Syria.
In Pictures: Syria’s endangered heritage sites