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Blast damages citadel wall in Syria's UNESCO-listed Aleppo

The blast partly destroyed the wall of the monumental 13th century citadel that overlooks the Old City
Wall of the Aleppo Citadel following a reported explosion in a tunnel near the monumental 13th fortress (AFP)

A bomb explosion Sunday in a tunnel near Aleppo Citadel in Syria damaged a wall of the fortress that is part of the UNESCO-listed Old City, state media and a monitor reported.

The blast partly destroyed the wall of the monumental 13th century citadel that overlooks the Old City, said the official SANA news agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"A powerful explosion was heard after midnight Saturday. It was caused by the blowing up of a tunnel in the Old City near the Aleppo Citadel," the Observatory said.

"The blast caused the collapse of part of the wall of the citadel," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

The Observatory said that opposition militants dug the tunnel "but it was the regime which blew it up to prevent them from reaching an army position".

Abdel Rahman said the explosion was followed by clashes between militant groups and government forces who are battling for control of the northern city.

SANA said "terrorists" blew up the tunnel, causing the damage to the historic citadel.

The Syrian government and its media describe as "terrorists" the various armed groups who have been battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad's regime since 2011.

Opposition fighters in Aleppo, Syria's second largest city and pre-war commercial hub, have often set off explosions in tunnels that they have dug under military targets before launching attacks on them.

In March, militants including Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, attacked a government-held intelligence base in Aleppo by first denotating a tunnel explosion and then battling the government forces.

For the past three years, Aleppo city has been divided between a government-held western sector and a rebel-held eastern one.

Government forces are deployed in parts of the Old City as well as inside the citadel.

The militants launched a major offensive in the first week of July to try to take territory on the western outskirts of the city.

The Aleppo Citadel, which contains the remains of mosques, a palace and bath buildings, is one of several sites in Syria on UNESCO's world heritage list.

One of the most famous is the ancient central city of Palmyra, which was seized by the jihadist Islamic State group from government forces on May 21.

Syria's conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

It has killed more than 230,000 people, turned more than four million Syrians into refugees, devastated the country's infrastructure and economy and inflicted damage in many heritage sites.

Elsewhere in northern Syria on Sunday, 11 members of the Islamic State group were killed in a US-led air strike on the city of Raqqa, which IS has declared as its capital, the Observatory said.

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