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UNESCO calls on Syrian factions to keep heritage sites out of their war

By Rudaw 15/7/2016
Ancient citadel in Aleppo. AP file photo.
Ancient citadel in Aleppo. AP file photo.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region--The United Nations cultural agency (UNESCO) has deplored the shelling of Aleppo's National Museum, calling it a blow to the history of all Syrians and urging all warring factions to keep heritage sites out of the war.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General said on Thursday: “The Old City of Aleppo has suffered extensive damage over the last four years. The destruction of the museum is a new blow to the heritage and history of all Syrians. I once again call on all parties to stop the violence and keep cultural heritage out of the conflict,”

The organization cites confirmed reports by the Syrian Directorate General for Antiquities and Museums that "the National Museum was hit by mortar shells on 11 July, causing extensive damage to the roof and structure of the building."

Aleppo has been the site of some of the most intense and destructive battles since the start of the Syrian civil war five years ago. Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1986, the Ancient city of Aleppo has been on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2013.

The UN cultural body "classified the Ancient City of Aleppo among six World Heritage sites in Syria, launched a three-year action plan in August 2013 aimed at preventing further losses and repairing damage where and when possible, but all six of those sites are now either destroyed or severely damaged." UNESCO says on its website.

The Syrian army launched a massive operation against rebel groups in and around Aleppo last month, backed by air strikes and heavy artillery.

"The National Museum is the most important museum in Aleppo, with thousands of objects reflecting all periods of Syrian history, including an important Islamic section," the organization quoted its director general Bokova.

According to Bokova, most ancient and valuable items have previously been removed from the Museum by the Syrian antiquities department and that UNESCO is concerned about parts of the collection still remain inside the building.

"Reiterating its calls on all parties to refrain from targeting as well as from using cultural property for military purposes, Ms. Bokova emphasized that UNESCO condemns all destruction of heritage since the outbreak of the conflict, no matter who the instigator," reads the UNESCO statement.

Alepp is located at the crossroads of several ancient trade routes and throughout its history it has been ruled by the Hittites, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols, Mamelukes and Ottomans. It boasts a 13th-century citadel, a 12th-century Great Mosque, various 17th-century madrasas, palaces, caravanserais and hammams.

To safeguard Syria’s cultural heritage, UNESCO is working with the Syrian antiquities department "through training of professionals, documentation and awareness-raising initiatives."

According to UNESCO Director-General the UN cultural body "is intensifying cooperation with non-governmental organizations, experts and institutions around the world and all across Syria, to protect Syrian heritage, building on the best of scientific expertise from all sides, in the spirit of the expert meeting held in Berlin on 2-4 June, in cooperation with Germany."

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