Syrian Authorities Foil Plot to Smuggle Hundreds of Ancient Artifacts Out of Country

Sputnik-Middle Easthttps://cdn1.img.sputniknews.com/img/107930/28/1079302884_0:82:3072:1744_1000x0_80_0_1_570ceb0085e08bd839f6d14970ed68c9.jpg.webpContaining some of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the world, including half-a-dozen major World Heritage sites, Syria’s ancient architectural and archeological treasures have suffered gravely during the long war.

Authorities in Syria have foiled a major criminal operation engaged in the smuggling of small, highly valuable ancient artifacts out of Syria, Daraa Antiquities Department Head Mohammad Khair al-Nasrallah has said.

Speaking to the Syrian Arab News Agency on Wednesday, the official noted that several hundred pieces, including 174 glass vessels dating back to the Bronze, Roman and Byzantine ages, have been handed over to his department.

Thanks to their recovery, the artifacts will remain in Syria, and be made available for everyone to see and enjoy in future exhibits at the Daraa National Museum.

According to al-Nasrallah, authorities and cultural workers have managed to recuperate many precious historical objects which were looted by terrorists; nevertheless, the war has also led to the loss of much of the southwestern Syrian region’s cultural heritage, with thousands of ancient and irreplaceable artifacts, sculptures and other works of art looted, destroyed or damaged, not only from museums and heritage sites, but from crude, illegal excavation of archeological sites throughout the area.

Authorities in Daraa in cooperation with the Daraa Antiquities Department have worked to stop the illegal smuggling of hundreds of ancient cultural treasures, including in the city of Daraa itself, which was liberated in July 2018 after days of intense fighting between Syrian Army units and a collection of rebel and terrorist militants, including the Nusra Front*, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and Daesh (ISIS)*. In 2018, police intervened to stop Roman-era objects including ornamental columns, pieces of basalt sculptures and copper and glass bottles from being smuggled out of Daraa into Jordan. In addition, the Antiquities Department has been working hand in hand with authorities in the restoration of damaged ancient structures.

Daraa antiquities workers’ efforts have been a part of a broader national campaign in defence of Syria’s nation’s cultural treasures, with archeologists, museum workers and other staff often risking their lives to try to save cultural objects and artifacts. In 2015, Daesh militants beheaded Dr. Khaled al-Asaad, a veteran Syrian archeologist and head of antiquities in the ancient city of Palmyra, after he refused to leave the city during the terrorists’ onslaught. After the city’s liberation, Syrian and Russian military and civilian specialists played an important role in work to restore the ancient city’s architectural treasures to their former splendor.

Authorities in Damascus, a city whose ancient center is one of the six locations listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, have made a concerted effort in recent years to restore and rebuild sites such as the Aleppo Citadel, and to return looted artifacts back to the country. In late 2018, The Syrian government accused the US and its French and Turkish allies of facilitating the plundering of its antiquities, calling such actions “a new war crime.” Late last year, Antiquities Trafficking and Heritage Anthropology Research Project Director Amr al-Azm reported that his group was tracking over 100 groups on Facebook engaged in the illegal trade of looted antiquities from the Middle East, including Syria.

Although UNESCO officials have praised Syrian efforts to restore and protect the country’s cultural legacy, the Arab Republic’s rebuilding has been hampered by Western countries’ refusal not only to provide aid to the country, but even to lift the harsh sanctions against Damascus. On top of that, President Trump’s open admission in October 2019 that the US planned to “keep the oil” in oil-rich northeastern Syria has left fewer resources in the budget’s coffers for rebuilding. In 2018, Syrian President Bashar Assad estimated it would take a decade and cost between $200-$400 billion to rebuild the country from the war.