Concern over Syria as World Heritage committee meets

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Six ancient Syrian sites as well as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could be listed as endangered by UNESCO, which began its annual session to decide which global cultural and natural treasures merit World Heritage status.

The main task of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization committee will be to decide whether 31 sites, including Japan’s Mount Fuji and the city of Agadez in Niger, are of “outstanding universal value.”

Around 1,300 delegates are due to attend the 10 day conference in Cambodia, which officially opened in the capital Phnom Penh late June 16. The closing ceremony is to be held in the country’s own heritage site, the temple complex of Angkor in Siem Reap.

Sites under threat

Discussion of new names to add to the already 962-strong World Heritage list is due to begin on June 20. The meeting will also highlight existing listed sites under threat.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, said “solidarity and political will” is needed “to protect cultural heritage under attack” such as in Mali, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere.

Syria’s civil war, which has claimed some 93,000 lives and reduced huge areas to rubble, has posed a grave threat to its World Heritage sites, according to an assessment by UNESCO. The ancient cities of Aleppo, Damascus and Bosra are among the sites that have been damaged during the fighting.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is also under consideration for endangered status. The best-known of the potential new additions to the coveted heritage listing include Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest peak at 3,776 meters and a national emblem, and Mount Etna, on the east coast of Sicily, the tallest active volcano in Europe.

Others include the Namib desert flanking southern Africa’s Atlantic coast, the magnificent villas and gardens of the Medici in Italy’s Tuscany region, the wooden Orthodox churches in the Carpathian mountains of Poland and Ukraine, and the Canadian fishing village of Red Bay, where Spanish Basque whalers operated in the 16th century.

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