Because of the fighting, most Syrian museums have removed their priceless treasures, storing them in “safe places,” Abdulkarim said, without elaborating.
Still unearthed treasures, however, are under constant threat because of the ongoing violence, he said.
The antiquities chief was careful neither to blame government troops nor rebels for looting, which ranged from what he called small-scale “tomb robbing” to the bulldozing of Byzantine mosaics in the Roman city of Apamea near Aleppo. He instead blamed “mafias” of sophisticated smugglers familiar with the location of the country’s numerous treasures.
Abdulkarim praised Jordanian police for their recovery over the weekend of Syrian artifacts and called on other neighboring countries to tighten controls. He said the stolen items included clay pottery, figurines and other undated artifacts.
He also asked UNESCO to appeal to Turkey and Iraq to enact stricter measures to prevent the smuggling of artifacts across their borders. Turkey has strained ties with the Assad regime, while Iraq’s porous frontier with Syria is difficult to monitor.
Abdulkarim warned against his country becoming like another Iraq, where the Baghdad Museum and many archaeological sites were plundered following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein.
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