The minaret of Umayyad Mosque, one of Syria’s most famous, has been destroyed during clashes in the northern city of Aleppo.
The state news agency Sana accused rebels of blowing up the 11th-Century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque.
However, activists say the minaret was hit by Syrian army tank fire.
The mosque, which is a Unesco world heritage site, has been in rebel hands since earlier this year but the area around it is still contested.
Last October Unesco appealed for the protection of the site, which it described as “one of the most beautiful mosques in the Muslim world”.
Images posted on the internet showed the minaret reduced to a pile of rubble in the mosque’s tiled courtyard.
The minaret of Umayyad Mosque, one of Syria’s most famous, has been destroyed during clashes in the northern city of Aleppo
Other parts of the mosque complex – which dates mostly from the 12th Century – have been badly damaged by gunfire and shell hits.
A report by Sana said fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group had destroyed the once famous landmark.
It quoted an official source saying that “terrorists… placed explosive materials in the minaret and the mosque’s southern door and set them off”.
However, Aleppo-based activist Mohammed al-Khatib, quoted by AP news agency, said a tank shell had “totally destroyed” the 45 m (148 ft) minaret.
The mosque has suffered extensive damage during months of fighting, with antique furnishings and intricately sculpted colonnades affected.
Reports say some ancient artefacts have also been looted, including a box purported to contain a strand of the Prophet Muhammad’s hair.
However, rebels said they had salvaged ancient handwritten Koranic manuscripts and hidden them.
Earlier, rebels and government forces reportedly clashed near Aleppo as they fought for control of a military airbase.
Rebels took a key military position outside the Minnigh airport on Tuesday and launched another raid on Wednesday, according to opposition activists with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The rebels, who have laid siege to the airport for months now, entered it for the first time around dawn,” Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the UK-based activist group, told AFP news agency.
Heavy fighting was taking place in the grounds, he added.
Analysts say losing control of the airport would be a strategic blow for the government.
The Free Syrian Army has been trying to seize a number of airbases in the area to disrupt regime supply routes.
Moaz al-Khatib, a leading Damascus cleric who fled Syria, has been chosen at a meeting in Qatar to head a new coalition to oppose President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Cleric Moaz al-Khatib, former Sunni Muslim imam of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, is seen as a moderate.
Earlier, Syrian opposition groups agreed a deal to bring together their disparate factions.
The fractious opposition has been under pressure from the US and other backers in the region to clinch a deal.
Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, 52, left Damascus for Cairo in July after several periods of detention by the Syrian authorities.
He had earlier attempted to bring the conflict to an end and in an interview with Reuters news agency in July said: “I want the Syrian people to remain as one hand.”
In a speech in Doha last month Moaz al-Khatib called for a political solution to save Syria from further destruction, arguing that negotiation would not “rescue the regime” but enable its departure with the least harm possible.
More than 36,000 people have been killed in the long-running uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Many thousands more have fled the country since the unrest began last year.
Earlier on Saturday the Israeli military said it had fired warning shots into Syria, after a mortar round from Syria hit an Israeli outpost in the occupied Golan Heights.
It was the first time the two sides have exchanged fire since the 1973 Middle East war.
Moaz al-Khatib has been chosen at a meeting in Qatar to head a new coalition to oppose Bashar al-Assad’s government
Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, a Muslim Brotherhood delegate at the Qatar talks, said the new body would be called the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution.
The group, formed after a week of talks in Doha, will have two vice-presidents – prominent dissident Riad Seif and leading secular activist Suhair al-Atassi.
The coalition’s leadership was set to become the face and voice of the Syrian opposition in the coming phase.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), which was formerly recognized as the main opposition, had been concerned it might be sidelined by the new opposition body.
One source at the meeting told Reuters that the SNC had agreed only under pressure and that it had been given a deadline of 10:00 a.m. to sign up or risk being left out.
The new body had been proposed by Riad Seif with the backing of the US, which had signaled its frustration with the SNC.
He confirmed on Sunday that a “12-point agreement to establish a coalition” had been sealed.
Proposals for the new body include an assembly of some 55-60 members, with a leadership that will seek international recognition as the voice of the Syrian people.
Delegates said the body would carry representation for ethnic Kurds, Christians, Alawites and women.
Bassem Said Ishak, of the SNC, said the Kurds required 48 hours to get the approval of their leadership.
The new body will also have a military council that will include the Free Syrian Army.
The backers of the new body hope it will boost the mainstream of the Syrian opposition and sideline any extremist elements.
Violence continued inside Syria on Sunday.
Opposition activists said government forces had attacked an area along the border with Turkey, after rebels had captured a crossing point.
The activists said helicopters and artillery units had bombarded the Ras al-Ain border area.
Clashes were also reported in Damascus, Albu Kamal near the Iraqi border, Irbin and in Deir Ezzor in the east.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military said the shell from Syria that hit a military post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was stray fire from fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israel was “ready for any development” on the border with Syria.
Israel and Syria are still technically at war, and a UN force patrols the buffer zone.
- Born 1960
- Son of long-standing imam of Damascus’s Grand Umayyad mosque
- Studied applied geophysics
- Imam of Grand Umayyad mosque
- Detained by Syrian military intelligence
- Fled Syria for Cairo in July 2012