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UNESCO chief urges ‘immediate’ cessation of hostilities at Palmyra world heritage site

Archaeological site of Palmyra in Syria.
© UNESCO/F. Bandarin
Archaeological site of Palmyra in Syria.

UNESCO chief urges ‘immediate’ cessation of hostilities at Palmyra world heritage site

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today called on all warring factions in Syria to immediately end hostilities within the archaeological site of Palmyra following reports that extremist groups had breached the ancient city’s perimeter.

“I am deeply concerned by the situation at the site of Palmyra. The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East and its civilian population,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a press release issued today.

“It is imperative that all parties respect international obligations to protect cultural heritage during conflict, by avoiding direct targeting, as well as use for military purposes.”

Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the historic city of Palmyra contains the ruins of “one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.”

From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. UNESCO created the idea of World Heritage to protect sites of outstanding universal value as part of its mandate to protect heritage and support for cultural diversity.

With conflict engulfing both Syria and Iraq and Islamist extremists fanning across a region rich in archaeological and cultural heritage, Ms. Bokova has increasingly voiced outrage over the practice of cultural cleansing which, she says, risks destroying millennia of history.

Reiterating her appeal for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in Syrian city, the UNESCO chief called on the international community “to do everything in its power to protect the affected population and safeguard the unique cultural heritage of Palmyra.”

Despite the international community’s ongoing attempts to halt the violence, the situation in Syria continues its downwards spiral. Some 12.2 million people, including 5.6 million children, now need humanitarian assistance.

By conservative estimates, more than 220,000 Syrians have died in the conflict, but that number is likely much higher.