Famous archaeological sites in northern Syria are being raided by locals and ISIS jihadists on an “industrial scale,” the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chief said on Wednesday.
“Satellite imagery shows that archaeological sites in Syria are dotted by thousands of illegal excavations … that show there is looting on an industrial scale,” Irina Bokova, the UN agency head, told a conference Wednesday, according to AFP.
“Limiting the trafficking in cultural property is a top priority because it finances the actions of the extremists,” Bokova added.
Syria is home to six UNESCO world heritage sites, and experts consider its monuments and antiquities of utmost significance in protecting the history of civilization.
And the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) added that over 900 historical cities have been raided, looted, and significantly damaged or extinguished, the report adds.
Jihadist have taken a particular interest in the UNESCO sites in Palmyra, Syria, as much of the area is now controlled by ISIS. In October, the ISIS militants murdered 82-year-old Khaled al-Assad, who had previously served as the head of antiquities in the ancient city.
The destruction of Palmyra has been “an impudent crime against civilization because it was a symbol of cultural dialogue, a material proof of the ability of cultures to interact,” Bokova said. “This is what the extremists are seeking to destroy.”
Bokova called for an international coalition “to counter the propaganda for cultural cleansing” that ISIS is currently promoting.
Maamun Abdulkarim, the director of antiquities in Syria, told the conference, “It is not simply the history of Syria that they are trying to destroy today but a whole page of the history of humanity.”
He said that jihadis attacked the historic sites for two reasons: they were ideologically opposed to its significance and the sites are “a source of funding for extremist groups.”