Yemen's Houthi rebels burn historic library in Hajjah

The library is known to possess some of the country's oldest religious manuscripts and books

This picture taken on December 15, 2020 shows a view of a rare manuscript of the Holy Koran, Islam's holiest book, kept at the Grand Mosque of Yemen's capital Sanaa.  / AFP / Mohammed HUWAIS
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Yemen's Houthi rebels burnt a historic library in the north-western city of Hajjah on Wednesday, sparking outrage across the country.

The library is located in Al Sunnah Mosque in the city and is known to hold some of the country's oldest religious and cultural manuscripts and books.

The internationally recognised government condemned the move and called on the public to unite against the rebels.

“The burning of the library is part of the Houthis' plan to bulldoze Yemen's identity and cultural heritage to impose the teachings of its founder, Hussein Al Houthi,” Yemen’s Information Minister, Muamaar Al Iryani, said.

Mr Al Iryani called on the Yemeni public to confront the Houthis' “malicious scheme".

Local media reports said the rebels raided the mosque in the past few days, before entering the library and torching its contents.

Yemeni activists likened the event to the burning of "un-German" literature by the Nazi party in 1933 that foreshadowed the killing of about six million Jews during the Second World War.

“To the people of Yemen, when will you wake up from your negligence?” said Noora Al Jawri, a Yemeni human rights activist, on Twitter. “Our homes and mosques are destroyed. Our history is violated. Our books are looted.”

Five years of civil war have taken a heavy toll on Yemen's heritage, with historic sites such as Sanaa's Old City, the Great Dam of Marib, the archaeological city of Baraqish and the ancient city of Zabid under immense threat.

In early 2019, the Houthis were held responsible for the looting of Zabid's historic library.

According to the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the rebels stole priceless manuscripts, books and artefacts from the library, an act rightly condemned as a crime against Yemeni and global civilisation.

At the time, Isesco director general Abdulaziz bin Othaman Al Twajairi said the pillaging of such heritage was a criminal offence that was a betrayal of the Yemeni people and a breach of international agreements.

Mr Al Twajiri called on the UN and its cultural agency Unesco to ensure that the rebels returned the items they had stolen from the library. He cited the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict that prevents the theft of such historic items.

Zabid was the capital of the country until the 15th century and a Unesco historic site since 1993.

The city is in Hodeidah province, the site of the battle between the Arab Coalition and the rebels for control of the Red Sea port city vital for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Yemeni population.

It is home to the world’s fifth oldest mosque.

The Yemeni government accuses the Houthi rebels of smuggling out stolen or looted antiques for sale on the black market overseas.

The conflict has triggered what the United Nations described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands killed and the majority of the population reliant on aid for survival.