The Taha Mosque – built during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909) on the outskirts of Damascus – has sustained considerable damage owing to repeated attacks by the Syrian regime, to the extent that local residents say it is no longer fit for use.
“If it weren’t for the mosque’s solid stone structure, it would have collapsed by now,” Al-Hajj Abu Mohamed, a resident of Douma city in the Western Ghouta region, where the historic mosque is located, told Anadolu Agency.
He went on to point out that the mosque’s ceiling, along with several walls, had been destroyed due to at least five separate regime attacks over the course of the conflict in Syria, now in its fifth year.
“We tried to restore the mosque, but the blockade [imposed on the area by the regime] and a lack of resources prevented us,” said Abu Mohamed.
“So now we must pray in a basement adjacent to the mosque,” he added.
The Ghouta area has traditionally been known for its orchards and farmland, although recent times have seen a degree of urban encroachment from nearby Damascus.
Most residents of the area, which is currently held by armed opposition forces, continue to live under extreme hardship due to a two-year-old regime-imposed blockade.
According to a report released last week by U.S.-based rights watchdog Amnesty International, more than 163,000 people in Eastern Ghouta are living “under siege” as a result of persistent regime airstrikes and shelling.
The ongoing conflict in Syria, which has left the country divided between heavily-armed warring factions, began when the regime of President Bashar al-Assad responded with unexpected ferocity to protests that erupted as part of the “Arab Spring” uprisings in early 2011.
Since then, roughly half of the country’s population has been displaced by the violence, with nearly four million Syrians now seeking refuge in neighboring countries, especially Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
The conflict has left more than 220,000 people dead to date, according to UN figures.