Yemen conflict threatens heritage site: ICRC

Yemen's historic city of Zabid is under threat as the conflict pitting government forces against the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) draws near, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned Tuesday (February 20th), calling on the warring sides to protect the site.

"The fighting in al-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 the 15th century, is listed as a UN 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 war, as government forces 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 al-Hodeida from the Houthis.

Zabid -- under Houthi 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.

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