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Muslim heritage sites at risk, UN warns Syria
Thursday March 13, 2014 8:41 AM, IANS

Top UN officials in a joint statement Wednesday urged for an immediate end to the destruction of cultural heritage in war-torn Syria.

Syria Heritage

[A picture taken on April 25, 2013 shows the rubble of the minaret of Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosque, in the UNESCO-listed northern Syrian city, after it was blown up the previous day. The iconic mosque in Aleppo's labyrinthine Old City has been a key battleground since last July, with rebels seeking the ouster of Bashar al-Assad's regime laying siege twice but each time managing only to keep control for less than 48 hours. AFP PHOTO/JALAL AL-HALABI (Photo credit: JALAL AL-HALABI/AFP/Getty Images)]

The statement was made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Irina Bokova and UN-League of Arab States Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, as the ongoing Syrian crisis enters its fourth year, Xinhua reported.

"As the people of Syria continue to endure incalculable human suffering and loss, their country's rich tapestry of cultural heritage is being ripped to shreds," it said.

World Heritage sites have suffered "considerable" and sometimes "irreversible" damage, the statement said.

Four sites are being used for military purposes or have been transformed into battlefields: Palmyra, an ancient Arabic city in central Syria; Crac des Chevaliers, Syria's best preserved castle from the Crusader of the Middle Ages; the Saint Simeon Church in the Ancient villages of Northern Syria; Aleppo, including the Aleppo Citadel.

"Archaeological sites are being systematically looted and the illicit trafficking of cultural objects has reached unprecedented levels," the statement said, adding that human representations in art are being destroyed by extremist groups intent on eradicating unique testimonies of Syria's rich cultural diversity.

"All layers of Syrian culture are now under attack -- including pre-Christian, Christian and Muslim," it said.

The three UN senior officials said that the destruction of such precious heritage gravely affects the identity and history of the Syrian people and all humanity, damaging the foundations of society for many years to come.

They stressed that "the protection of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, is inseparable from the protection of human lives, and should be an integral part of humanitarian and peace-building efforts".

Therefore, the three called on all parties to halt immediately all destruction of Syrian heritage, and to save Syria's rich social mosaic and cultural heritage by protecting its World Heritage Sites in line with UN Security Council resolutions.

"We condemn the use of cultural sites for military purposes and call on all parties to the conflict to uphold international obligations, notably the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of Armed Conflict and customary international humanitarian law," they said.

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