Save the heritage sites!



UN Peacekeeping Troops to Protect Heritage Sites from ISIS

Since its establishment in 2013, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has displaced millions, murdered millions more, and has carried out a sustained campaign of seizure and demolition of cultural heritage sites and religious monuments in their occupied regions of Iraq and Syria.

The destruction of priceless cultural artifacts, which are deemed idolatrous by the militant group, is now finally being addressed by the United Nations. UNESCO has just approved the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops to protect and defend their heritage sites from further damage—these include sites that are in war zones or in danger of extremist attacks, of course, but also those that are in places susceptible to natural disasters.

The Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria

News of the decision was announced by Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini on Saturday. The “Cultural Blue Helmets,” as they’re known, are being deployed in direct response to ISIS militants’ most recent attacks on historical sites in Palmyra, Syria.

Since their occupation of Palmyra in May, ISIS has already destroyed the ancient Baalshamin Temple, the Temple of Bel, and the Roman-era Arch of Triumph. And in August, militants beheaded the antiquities expert Khaled al-Assad after he refused to reveal the location of valuable Syrian artifacts. Faced with these horrifying events, Franceschini said in a statement that it is impossible for the international community to “stand back and watch,” adding that the UN should “immediately define the operational aspects of this international task force.”

Palmyra’s ancient amphitheater

The troops, it is reported, will also use the help of the Carabinieri Art Squad, an Italian police force that specializes in combatting crimes against art and antiques. When the troops will be deployed is yet unknown, but 53 countries are officially in support of the action.

Images via EndTime and Al Jazeera.

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