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UNESCO Chief Concered By Military Presence At Syria World Heritage Sites

Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has condemned the military presence at Syria's world heritage sites as well as their destruction, according to a press release issued Friday by the UN agency.

"The situation in Syria is deteriorating at a rapid pace with incalculable human suffering and loss. Syria's unique cultural heritage is also subject to tremendous destruction from the conflict," Bokova said in a statement.

Noting that three UNESCO World Heritage Sites -- Palmyra, the Crac des Chevaliers, and Aleppo including the Aleppo Citadel -- are currently being used for military purpose, she stressed that this move raises the risk of imminent and irreversible destruction, in addition to that which these sites have already suffered.

"This presence constitutes an infringement of the rights of the Syrian people. Damage to cultural heritage is a blow against the identity and history of the Syrian people - it is a blow against the universal heritage of humanity. I appeal for the swift removal of all military presence from cultural sites, in respect of international obligations of all parties involved in the conflict," Bokova said.

In her statement, the UNESCO chief appealed to all parties to the conflict in Syria to abstain from using for any military purpose cultural property or their immediate surroundings, in order to avoid exposing such property to further destruction or damage.

"This obligation is codified in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict - the only international agreement of universal vocation focused exclusively on the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict - it is also consistent with customary international humanitarian law," she said.

"All this must be part of wider efforts to end violence, to protect human life and move to peace. I join my voice to that of the international community to call for a positive outcome of the negotiation efforts underway," the UNESCO chief added.

It is now estimated that more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed and millions of others driven from their homes since the conflict erupted in March 2011, when originally peaceful protestors sought the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.

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