Syrian opposition calls on UNESCO to protect Old City of Damascus amid fires

Syrian opposition calls on UNESCO to protect Old City of Damascus amid fires

Opposition says it is forming independent commission for protection of cultural heritage of ancient city

By Esref Musa

ANKARA (AA) – Syria’s opposition urged the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Monday to protect the historical structure of the Old City of Damascus, a World Heritage Site, following a fire at Souk Sarouja.

In a letter addressed to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, the group blamed Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad regime for five fires in Damascus in the last three years.

The fires occurred "at archaeological sites of great symbolism for world heritage in Syria for the purpose of demographic and historical change," said the group, which consists of several non-governmental organizations including US-based Global Justice and the Syrian Emergency Task Force as well as Riyad Hijab, a former Syrian prime minister, and Riyad Na'san Agha, former Syrian minister of culture.

"We hope that you will take practical measures to protect the treasures of heritage in Damascus, in particular, and in Syria in general, and that our committee, whose formation will be announced soon, will be approved under the name 'The Independent Commission for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Damascus'," it added.

"It will include Syrian statesmen, intellectuals, scholars and non-governmental organizations from the United States of America, Europe, the Arab world and various parts of the world," it said.

On July 16, a fire broke out in Souk Sarouja, known as "Little Istanbul," in the Old Damascus area for reasons yet to be determined.

The fire damaged some historical buildings and one section of the Damascus Heritage House. Fires broke out in Damascus’ other bazaars in 2016, 2017 and 2020.

Syria has been embroiled in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN estimates.

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