UN slams destruction of sites in Palmyra, other ancient Syrian cities

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UNITED NATIONS, Jan 21 (APP): The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has confirmed the
destruction of Palmyra’s famed tetrapylon and the facade of the
ancient Syrian city’s Roman theatre, following its evaluation of
the destruction of cultural heritage sites in iconic Aleppo.
Condemning the destruction at Palmyra, the UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova said: “this destruction is a new war crime and an immense
loss for the Syrian people and for humanity.”
She noted that this “new blow against cultural heritage, just
a few hours after UNESCO received reports about mass executions in
the theatre, shows that cultural cleansing led by violent extremists
is seeking to destroy both human lives and historical monuments in
order to deprive the Syrian people of its past and its future.”
“The tetrapylon was an architectural symbol of the spirit of
the encounter and openness of Palmyra – and this is also one of
the reasons why it has been destroyed. Its position and shape
are unique in ancient architecture and testified to the
specificity of Palmyrene identity, as a source of pride and
dignity for all Syrians today,” the director-general said.
Palmyra’s theatre, dating from the 2nd century AD and
was built in the centre of a semicircular colonnaded piazza
located to the southwest of the main colonnaded street.
UN analysis of satellite imagery shows damage at its
formerly well-preserved proscenium wall, which was decorated
with ten curved and nine rectangular niches placed alternately.
The preliminary assessment of the UNESCO-led emergency
mission to the World Heritage Site in Aleppo, which was sent
into the war-torn Syrian city from 16 to 19 January, cited
extensive damage at the Great Umayyad Mosque, the Citadel,
mosques, churches, suqs, khans, madrassas, hammams, museums
and other significant historic buildings, with some 60 per
cent of the Inscribed Property severely damaged and 30
per cent totally destroyed.
In a response to the already known destruction, and
after taking note of the recent detailed devastating
findings of the emergency mission, Ms. Bokova said “this
situation calls for immediate action and the highest
sense of responsibility and coordination.”
UNESCO, the UN body responsible for identifying significant
cultural landmarks, launched a three-year action plan in August
2013 to prevent further losses and to repair damage where and
when possible. In the same year the Ancient City of Aleppo
and the site of Palmyra were inscribed on the List of World
Heritage in Danger.
“As I have urged on numerous occasions, I call on all
parties to refrain from targeting cultural monuments and
educational institutions, in accordance with international
and humanitarian law,” Ms. Bokova said, adding that “culture
and education should never be taken hostage of conflict –
we must unite to protect them.”
In 2015, the UN Security Council banned all trade in
looted antiquities from Syria. The resolution also condemned
the destruction and smuggling of cultural heritage in Syria
by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and
the Al-Nusrah Front, “whether such destruction is incidental
or deliberate, including targeted destruction of religious
sites and objects.”
Against that backdrop, the Council decided that all Member
States shall take appropriate steps to prevent the trade in
Iraqi and Syrian cultural property and other items of “historical,
cultural, rare scientific and religious importance illegally
removed from Iraq since 6 August 1990 and from Syria since 15
March 2011.”
Encouraging steps to ensure such items are returned to
their homelands, the Council called on UNESCO, Interpol,
and other international organizations to assist in such
efforts.