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France, UAE launch fund to protect heritage in conflict areas

December 3, 2016 at 4:39 pm

France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) today launched a $100 million fund to protect heritage sites threatened by extremism and conflict after the destruction last month of an ancient palace by Daesh militants in Iraq.

The fund, announced at an Abu Dhabi conference attended by President Francois Hollande and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will be used to create “safe havens” for endangered artefacts and to transport and restore monuments damaged by war, UAE state news agency WAM reported.

“Conflict causes irreparable damage to valuable heritage sites in Syria, Iraq, Mali and many others,” WAM quoted Mohammed Al-Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi’s tourism and culture authority, as saying.

“Today, we establish a $100 million fund to focus on protecting and rebuilding these sites.”

The statement did not provide further details.

Roman-era temples in Syria, museums in Iraq and ancient stucco buildings in medieval Yemeni ports have been marred by wars that have swept the region since 2011.

France and the UAE are part of a US-led international military coalition fighting Daesh militants in Iraq and Syria, and say they want to protect artefacts threatened by airstrikes, smugglers and militant groups.

Daesh fighters last year dynamited several monuments including the Baal Shamin temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, an act the UN cultural agency UNESCO called a war crime.

“This fanaticism is an attack on civilisations and thus on the unity of the human species,” Hollande told the UNESCO conference, referring to Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

Hollande also rebuked Syrian authorities for destroying Syria’s diverse cultural heritage.

“In Aleppo, those who have chosen to unleash violence kill the Syrian people twice over – in the flesh with the bombing raids and the massacres which are taking place and in memory by [destroying] the most prestigious objects of humanity,” he said.

Daesh are not the only ones who have damaged cultural heritage sites in the Middle East. The US built helicopter pads and other military facilities on ancient Iraqi landmarks, such as those in Babylon, during and after its invasion of Iraq in 2003.