For the first time, the International Criminal Court in The Hague has opened war crimes proceedings against an Islamist militant accused of leading in the destruction of historical monuments. The charges reflect a heightened global concern about the safety of antiquities across the Middle East and North Africa, including in UNESCO World Heritage sites. Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliates are increasingly launching deliberate assaults on treasured religious monuments.
That concern should be extended to Yemen, particularly its capital. The views of the Old City of Sanaa from the rooftop restaurant at the Burj Al Salam Hotel are spectacular. Mosques and minarets jostle for space in this "city within a city." Multi-tiered buildings of compacted earth and bricks forming intricate geometric white patterns often compared to wedding cakes are crammed together along narrow streets. Small gardens add splashes of green.
Inhabited for more than 2,500 years, Sanaa's Old City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. Its roughly 6,000 houses and more than 100 mosques were built before the 11th century. The structures have housed families for many generations. Yet it is all now at grave risk.