Mon, Oct 19, 2015 - Page 6 News List

UN approved to protect heritage sites

AFP, ROME

Tourists visit the UNESCO world heritage site of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria on Oct. 17, 2009.

Photo: EPA

Italy on Saturday said that UNESCO has approved its suggestion to have the UN’s Blue Helmets protect heritage sites around the world from attacks by Muslim militants.

“UNESCO has said yes to the Cultural Blue Helmets,” Italian Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini said in a statement, adding that 53 countries voted in favor after the destruction of sites including Palmyra in Syria by the Islamic State (IS) group.

“Faced with IS terrorist attacks and the terrible images of Palmyra, the international community cannot stand back and watch,” he said, adding that the permanent members of the security council had supported the idea.

UN peacekeepers, known by their distinctive blue helmets, would be able to profit from the expertise of Italy’s cultural and heritage police, “who carry out training missions around the world,” Franceschini said.

The idea is aimed at “important sites at risk from terrorist attacks, or in war zones, or zones hit by natural disasters, where the international community will be able to send Cultural Blue Helmets to protect them or defend them before they can be destroyed,” he said.

He called on the UN to “immediately define the operational aspects of this international task force.”

The Islamic State group seized control of Palmyra in May and has realized international fears by destroying some of the most prized sites in the UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient city.

The militants have carried out a sustained campaign of destruction against heritage sites in areas under their control in Syria and Iraq, including the Iraqi sites of Hatra, Nimrud and Khorsabad, an ancient Assyrian capital.

Militants are also accused of being behind attacks on 10 religious and historic monuments in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Timbuktu in Mali.

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