Syria’s old cultural treasures in danger
BEIRUT - The Associated Press
Syria’s yearlong revolt destroys country’s most important archaeological sites. AP photoOn its towering hilltop perch, the Krak des Chevaliers, one of the world’s best preserved Crusader castles, held off a siege by the Muslim warrior Saladin nearly 900 years ago. It was lauded by Lawrence of Arabia for its beauty and has been one of the crown jewels of Syria’s tourism.
But it has fallen victim to the chaos of Syria’s uprising and the crackdown against it by President Bashar Assad’s regime. Recently, gunmen broke into the castle, threw out the staff and began excavations to loot the site, says Bassam Jammous, general director of the Antiquities and Museum Department in Damascus.
Syria’s turmoil is threatening the country’s rich archaeological heritage, experts warn.
Some of the country’s most significant sites have been caught in the crossfire in battles between regime forces and rebels. Others have been turned into military bases, raising archaeologists’ fears of damage. Regime shelling of neighborhoods where the opposition is holed up has smashed historic mosques, churches and souks, or markets. Looters have stolen artifacts from excavations and museums.
In one of the most egregious examples, shells thudded into the walls of the 12th century al-Madeeq Citadel, raising flames and columns of smoke as regime forces battled with rebels in March. The bombardment punched holes in the walls, according to online footage of the fighting.
Local activists said regime forces carried out the assault and afterward moved tanks into the hilltop castle. Later footage showed bulldozers knocking through part of the walls to create an entrance.