Syria Reopens Damascus Antiquities Museum

Syrians sit in the courtyard of the National Museum during a ceremony in the memory of Khaled al-Assaad, the late 82-year old retired chief archaeologist of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, on August 23, 2015 in the Syrian capital Damascus. The Islamic State (IS) group beheaded Al-Assaad, who refused …
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty

DAMASCUS (AFP) – Syria reopened a wing of the capital’s famed antiquities museum on Sunday after six years of closure to protect its exhibits and visitors from rebel rocket fire in the civil war.

Officials swung open the large wooden door of the building in central Damascus for the first time since 2012.

On display were “some of the artefacts that used to be exhibited at the National Museum dating from the most historic periods, from prehistory to the Islamic era”, antiquities official Ahmad Deeb said.

Authorities were working “to prepare the whole museum in the coming period” to be reopened, he said.

The Damascus museum, founded in 1920, was closed one year into the civil war as the then national head of antiquities took action to protect its artefacts from rebel rocket fire or shelling.

Its gardens, however, remained open to the public, even as rockets intermittently hit Damascus from the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta, northeast of the capital.

Syria is home to more than 700 archeological sites, many of which have been destroyed, damaged or looted since the start of the war.

All warring sides have been accused of looting artifacts during the conflict, from both major archeological sites and the country’s museums.

The most famous include the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO-listed heritage site overrun by the Islamic State group until the Russia-backed army retook it last year.

From 2012 onwards, the museums authority stored some 300,000 items and thousands of manuscripts from around the country at secret locations protected from fires, shelling and floods.

More than seven years into the conflict, President Bashar Assad’s regime has secured the capital, after expelling rebels and jihadists from its outskirts earlier this year with Russian military support.

Assad’s forces are now in control of around two-thirds of the country.

More than 360,000 people have been killed since the war started in March 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

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