BEIRUT - Syrian army shelling destroyed the centuries-old mausoleum of a companion of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in the central city of Homs on Monday, a monitoring group and activists said.
Reports of the destruction of the Sunni Muslim pilgrimage site emerged as an intense army campaign to reclaim rebel-held areas of Homs, a strategic junction city, entered its fourth week.
"Activists from the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood in the city of Homs have reported the destruction by army shelling of the mausoleum of the prophet's companion Khaled bin Walid," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Housed in the rebel area of Khaldiyeh, the Khaled bin Walid mosque had already suffered significant damage during earlier fighting for control of the city.
Amateur video distributed by activists showed the mosque, renowned for its two towering minarets, and images of what was identified as the destroyed mausoleum.
"The Khalid bin Walid mosque was shelled, and the shrine was completely destroyed," said the unnamed activist filming the footage.
The images show mounds of rubble, stone and metal at the site identified as the mausoleum.
The video also shows an unidentified man lashing out at the world over the destruction of the shrine.
"I want to tell Arabs and Muslims, how will you face God after Khalid bin Walid's shrine has been destroyed? Why have you abandoned besieged Homs?" says the man.
Speaking to AFP via the Internet, Khaldiyeh-based activist Yazan said the mosque holds symbolic importance not only for Homs' residents but for Sunnis as a whole.
"People used to come and visit the shrine from the world over," Yazan said, adding that the mosque housing the shrine is "practically destroyed".
Khaldiyeh and the Old City neighbourhoods of Homs, still under rebel control, have been under suffocating army siege and near-daily bomb attacks for more than a year.
The mosque housing Khalid bin Walid's shrine, an important pilgrimage site for Muslims, was built over several centuries. The shrine itself dates to the 11th century, while the mosque was constructed by the Mameluks in the mid-13th century.
Known for his military prowess, Khalid bin Walid's forces captured Damascus from the Byzantine empire. A military commander under Prophet Mohammed and under two successive caliphs, he died around the year 642, in Homs.
Bin Walid's mausoleum is the latest of a series of Syrian religious and cultural sites damaged or destroyed in the course of the country's 28-month war.
In the war-torn northern city of Aleppo, the minaret of the landmark Umayyad mosque was destroyed in April, while parts of the ancient souks were burnt down in September last year.