UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi on Wednesday urged the warring parties in Syria to stop ripping the country's rich tapestry of cultural heritage to shreds, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told the daily press briefing. The officials called on all parties in a joint statement 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, -- condemned the use of cultural sites for military purposes, and appealed to all countries and professional bodies to be on alert for stolen Syrian artifacts that might be illegally bought or sold.
"World Heritage sites have suffered considerable and sometimes irreversible damage. Four of them are being used for military purposes or have been transformed into battlefields: Palmyra; the Crac des Chevaliers; the Saint Simeon Church in the Ancient villages of Northern Syria; and Aleppo, including the Aleppo Citadel," Dujarric said.
He noted that archaeological sites are being "systematically looted and the illicit trafficking of cultural objects has reached unprecedented levels." He explained that there are "alarming" reports that Syrian heritage has been "deliberately targeted for ideological reasons, and 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." 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," he stressed. He noted that "destroying the inheritance of the past robs future generations of a powerful legacy, deepens hatred and despair and undermines all attempts to foster reconciliation. Now is the time to stop the destruction, build peace and protect our common heritage."