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According to Bandarin, the government has allowed Abdulkarim to deal with the rebels on the issue of heritage conservation.

He appoints people to guard cultural treasures in rebel-controlled areas and, apparently, the rebels accept their authority.

As Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, emphasized in her appeal last week, paying attention to this aspect of the conflict does not mean overlooking the humanitarian tragedy.

The destruction of this heritage is a "part of the humanitarian disaster in Syria," she said.

Bombs, guns and thieves Joined in Russia, Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO's Assistant Director General for Culture, is deeply concerned by the effects of the conflict on Syria's historical sites.

"The situation is catastrophic, much worse than one can imagine," he told DW.

It is also impracticable to provide constant surveillance for all of the 10,000 archaeological sites in the country.

Worthwhile drops in the ocean Other UNESCO actions involve identifying the artifacts which could be circulating on the black market and collaborating with different international partners, including INTERPOL and the police and custom services of neighboring countries.

Others include the old cities of Damascus and Bosra, ancient villages of Northern Syria, the Crusade-period castle Crac des Chevaliers, and the fortifications of Qal'at Salah El-Din, as well as the monumental ruins in the oasis of Palmyra.

These sites have been affected by the civil war and were recently added to UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger.

A second type of loss comes from thefts in museums.

But, as Francesco Bandarin explains, "This is not done by peasants living in the area - it's not a spontaneous thing. The market for illicit traffic of cultural objects is huge.

We are not on equal ground; we are very weak." The crime circles can't be stopped, conceded Bandarin, adding, "But this does not mean we shouldn't try." Political neutrality for culture's sake UNESCO has developed a plan of action to prevent further damage, although the conflict hinders missions in the country.

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Illicit digs and organized crime Finally, archeological sites are being devastated by illicit excavations. "If you destroy the minaret of the Umayyad mosque in Aleppo, it's a catastrophe, but it is still possible to rebuild it one day, whereas when people just come and take objects, you will never get them back," he explained.

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