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UNESCO Calls For Protection Of Heritage Properties In Syria

In the light of escalated violence in the vicinity of several historic urban areas in Syria, the head of the United Nations agency tasked with safeguarding the world's cultural heritage has reiterated her appeal for all parties in the Syrian conflict to protect the Middle East country's cultural heritage.

Irina Bokova, Director-General of the U.N. Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO), "urges all parties to respect and protect Syria's great cultural legacy, which constitutes a source of identity and fulfillment for its people, and to abide by their international obligations in the area of culture," according to a UNESCO news release.

Of particular concern to UNESCO is the reports of heavy fighting in Aleppo where the historic Citadel of Aleppo exists. The fort is one of 962 properties listed on the World Heritage List for its outstanding universal cultural value.

Strategically positioned on historic trade routes linking East and West, the ancient city has conserved an astounding monumental heritage reflecting the diverse cultures of the peoples that have settled in the region over millennia, including the Hittites, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyubids, Mongols, Mamelukes and Ottomans.

"Owing to the volatile security situation, it has not been possible to assess the extent of the damage to the ancient city of Aleppo and several other World Heritage sites, including the Crac des Chevaliers, Palmyra, the Ancient Villages in Northern Syria and Damascus," UNESCO said.

The cultural agency is also concerned about the risks of looting and pillaging of cultural property, and has alerted the World Customs Organization and INTERPOL - as well as Syria's neighboring countries - to the potential threats of illicit trafficking in Syrian cultural objects.

Besides, Bokova has contacted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Chair of the Security Council so that they can alert U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan to the importance of ensuring that the provisions of the international conventions regarding protection of cultural property are respected.

Meanwhile, the battle between Syrian government forces and the Opposition rebels for control of Aleppo intensified in a week of fighting. Undeterred by a wave of casualties, the rebels say they will not back down in their quest to seize the nation's commercial hub and largest city. The Opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least one rebel fighter was killed as helicopter gunships flew over the city on Thursday.

More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 16 months ago.

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