Arab countries to boost efforts to preserve historic sites
Ten Arab countries said on Thursday they would coordinate to counter artefact smuggling and preserve the region’s heritage sites, as jihadists in Syria advanced to the gates of ancient Palmyra.
Representatives of the countries concluded a two-day meeting in Cairo with a condemnation of the Islamic State group’s destruction of historic sites in Iraq.
They released a statement warning that the region’s historical sites faced threats from “organised crime networks and terrorist groups”.
Officials decided to establish a committee to combat looting and “coordinate on a regional and international level to protect artefacts, prevent their smuggling and retrieve what has already been stolen.”
The states represented were Egypt, Oman, Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Jordan.
Irina Bokova, the head of UN cultural agency UNESCO, warned that the start of the conference that “looting of archaeological sites has reached an unprecedented scale.”
“This cultural cleansing is being used as a tactic to terrify people… it is a war crime.”
Syria’s director of antiquities Mamoun Abdulkarim said on Thursday that IS fighters were battling Syrian troops less than two kilometres (about a mile) from Palmyra.
UNESCO describes Palmyra as a heritage site of “outstanding universal value”.
The ancient city stood on a caravan route at the crossroads of several civilisations and its 1st and 2nd century temples and colonnaded streets mark a unique blend of Graeco-Roman and Persian influences.
Abdulkarim said he had no doubt that if Palmyra fell to the jihadists it would suffer a similar fate to ancient Nimrud in Iraq, which they blew up earlier this year.
“If IS enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction,” he said.