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IS not alone in looting Syrian cultural heritage: Study

ISLAMABAD: On Wednesday, the self styled Islamic State (IS) group may dominate headlines about the destruction of many heritage sites in the Syrian country, but Islamic state is not the only culprit, a new research has warned.

According to the study led by a specialist at the Dartmouth University in Middle East Archaeology, “The Syrian regime, Kurdish and other opposition forces are also major players in the destruction.

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The findings are based on analysis of satellite imagery from nearly 1000 out of Syria’s estimated archaeological sites which is published in the Journal Near Eastern Archaeology. Whereas media attention,  “has led to a widespread misunderstanding that ISIS is the main culprit when it comes to looting,” according to the Jesse Casana, who is an associate professor at the Dartmouth, while using another name for the group of Islamic state.

Using satellite imagery, our research is able to demonstrate that looting is actually very common across all parts of Syria.”

More than 26 per cent of sites were looted in regions held by Kurdish or other opposition groups. Around 21.4pc of sites were looted in IS-controlled areas and 16.5pc in Syrian regime areas,” the research has found.

The study also found out that, “But while minor looting was most common in Kurdish and opposition-held areas, IS dominated when it came to heavy destruction.”

Casana told AFP that, “To the best of our knowledge, the sites that were within IS-held areas now have a much higher incidence of moderate or severe looting than sites we have sampled in other places, and a much lower incidence of looting overall.”

He said that,  “IS is terrible, awful.” And  he added, “On the other hand, looting on an equally large scale is taking place at a large number of sites all across Syria.”

Casana also told AFP that, “Episodes of severe looting have been perpetrated under the direct watch or perhaps by the Syrian regime military and not been widely reported.”

A destructive campaign has been carried out by the IS in the states of Ira and Syria, and have also dismantled the ancient ruins of Palmyra since it had captured the area in the month of May.

Apamea was first looted by the regime military. Satellite images indicate that the looting began in 2012 after Syrian forces moved in, and that the most extreme phase took place in the government-administered portion of the site,” Casana said.

Whereas Casana told the AFP that, “The US military could wipe all of IS off of the map, but it will not stop looting.”

Casana said that he had worked before the war in the Syria on the excavations and embarked on the research for over a year while using the United State’s state department grant. However, now he is planning to widen the focus area of his research to the other sites in the Syria and extend it towards the Northern part of Ira.

He said, “I think that knowing about what’s going on in the course of this conflict is important.” He added that, “I just really wanted to do something. I worked in Syria a long time, I know many people there ─ using imagery to monitor it I feel at least it’s not susceptible to propaganda.”