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UNESCO lists two locations in Lebanon, Yemen as heritage sites in danger

In an urgent session on Wednesday, UNESCO named two sites from Lebanon and Yemen to its List of World Heritage in Danger, calling for their immediate preservation.
A Yemeni man looks up at pillars at the Awam, or Moon Temple, near the recently restored Arsh, or Throne of Balquis, the site of the legendary kingdom of Sheba, Marib province, Yemen, Dec. 21, 2000.

The United Nations added an ancient city in Yemen and a modernist fairgrounds complex in Lebanon to its List of World Heritage in Danger following an extraordinary session that it held on Wednesday. 

UNESCO’s listed sites are considered to have a unique irreplaceable cultural and historical value to the world. More locations are added with time. “UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity,” it states on its website.

A spokesperson for the UNESCO World Heritage Center told the Middle East Eye that an emergency procedure was used to inscribe both sites due to them facing severe threats. "The inscription of a site into the World Heritage in danger list gives to the state party where the site is located access to international assistance, both technical and financial," the spokesperson said.

According to the UNESCO country reports, Lebanon has six properties inscribed on the World Heritage List, while Yemen has five. During the meeting, the committee also added the historic center of the Ukrainian port city of Odesa as a third site. 


In a tweet, UNESCO identified the Rachid Karami International Fair-Tripoli as a site in danger to be protected.

Designed in 1962 by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, this 173-acre modernist complex was designed during a time when Lebanon was following a modernization policy across its urban cities. The building was originally intended to host large exhibitions. Construction was prolonged due to funding issues. Works were halted entirely at the start of the Lebanese civil war in the late 1970s.

The main architectural fascination with the building is its boomerang-shaped hall, alongside the timeline it carries, marking it as a vanguard of 20th century architecture in the Middle East.

The ignored building has not been maintained for years, which prompted UNESCO to classify it on its endangered list citing an “alarming state of conservation,″ fearing that renovations could compromise its authenticity and integrity.

Since 2019, Lebanon has been trapped in an economic crisis with no end in sight. The local currency lost over 90% of its value and its exchange rate to the dollar is now at an unprecedented low. The financial collapse has plunged the majority of the population into poverty, with millions struggling to cope and ensure their daily basic necessities during what is considered as one of the world’s sharpest inflation.

With a vacant presidential seat and a caretaker government, the country is constantly battling internal power plays manifested in social, political and legal matters among the political elite who seems incapable and unwilling to find a solution.


The Yemeni pre-Islamic kingdom of Saba in Marib city — made up of seven landmarks including temples, ramparts, a dam and ruined buildings from historical times — was also added to the UNESCO endangered list.  

The sites were built throughout 1000 B.C. to the third century and represent urban settlements during the Sabaean era. The Sabaeans founded the kingdom of Saba, known today as Yemen. They are considered an ancient community hailing from South Arabia, a historical region that encompasses the southern region of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia.

According to historical data, it also included parts of Saudi Arabia and Oman.

These seven sites, which once stretched from Sanaa to Marib, are located today in an area that falls directly under the line of fire separating the Houthis from the Saudi coalition forces.

Among several reasons cited for adding it to the List of World Heritage in Danger, the threat of destruction posed by the ongoing conflict was key.   

Yemen has been the battleground for a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have backed opposing ends.

The yearslong conflict began in 2014 when the Houthis, backed by Iran, took over the capital Sanaa and northern Yemen, controlling the land and instilling its rule while ousting the UN-backed, internationally recognized government.

A Saudi-led coalition was quickly formed to counter the internal moves in Yemen and secure the borders with Saudi Arabia.

Armed with US weapons and intelligence, the Saudi-led coalition has been deeply entrenched in the war. A truce was agreed upon in April 2022; it was the first time in years that the country had known relative calm. Ongoing talks and negotiations are now taking place to renew the truce and reach a Yemeni-Yemeni political dialogue in the hope that it will be conducive to a permanent cease-fire.

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