Quake-hit Syrian castle at risk

Zuhair Hassoun examines worrying cracks in a Crusader-era castle in Syria, a UNESCO World Heritage site that survived centuries of conflict only to be badly damaged by last month's deadly earthquake.

Hassoun, the custodian of the Fortress of Saladin, an architectural treasure with Byzantine roots in the 10th century rebuilt by Frankish Crusaders in the 12th century, walked carefully past fissured walls and crumbling arches.

"All of the fortress's towers are in danger," Hassoun said, warning that one had already fallen after the quake.

Other parts "will inevitably collapse," he said, adding that it was only "a question of time."

The hilltop fortress surrounded by forest was among dozens of cultural heritage sites that officials say were damaged in the devastating 7.8-magnitude quake that hit Türkiye and Syria on Feb. 6.

More than 50,000 people were killed in the disaster, almost 6,000 of them in Syria.

Ancient sites damaged included the Syrian city of Aleppo's famed citadel and Old City.

The Fortress of Saladin has been on the United Nations' World Heritage List since 2006, and on the list of World Heritage in Danger since 2013, two years after the start of Syria's civil war.

But the castle, in western Syria's mostly government-held province of Latakia, scraped through the conflict unscathed and was still open to the public until last month's quake.

Hassoun said he feared that aftershocks or even heavy rain could cause further damage to the site, whose main facade is now cracked from top to bottom.

"Every stone slab weighs at least a tonne," he said. "Any part of the fortress that falls into the valley can never be retrieved."

The earthquake hit one of the longest continuously inhabited...

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