Satellite imagery indicate that 290 cultural heritage sites in Syria, whose history stretches back to the dawn of civilization, have been damaged by its ongoing civil war, the United Nations’ training and research arm (UNITAR) said on Tuesday. Syria’s heritage spans the great empires of the Middle East but cultural sites and buildings around the country, such as Aleppo’s Umayyad Mosque, have been looted, damaged or destroyed in the three-year-old conflict. Clashes between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels have damaged historical sites and buildings throughout Syria.
National and international efforts for the protection of these areas need to be scaled up in order to save as much as possible of this important heritage [for] humankind.
Both sides in the conflict have used ancient fortresses as military bases. The army has positioned snipers on Aleppo’s Citadel, one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. Insurgent forces also overran the 900-year-old Crac des Chevaliers Crusader castle. The army retook it in March but only after months of bombardment. Radical Sunni Muslim insurgents have also destroyed ancient sites which they consider to be heretical. The United Nations says more than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011 with popular protests against Assad and spiraled into civil war after a violent crackdown by security forces.