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UN Says Destruction Of Cultural Sites Could Be War Crime

Syria - The historical architectural complex of Ancient Palmyra in Homs Governorate, March 5, 2017

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the destruction of cultural heritage sites in conflict zones, saying guilty parties could be prosecuted for war crimes.

The resolution approved on March 24 focused on Iraq and Syria, where Islamic State (IS) extremists have destroyed heritage sites, including in the ancient city of Palmyra.

Previous UN measures were limited to targeting the illegal trafficking of looted cultural items to fund terrorism.

"Directing unlawful attacks against sites and buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science, or charitable purposes, or historic monuments may constitute, under certain circumstances and pursuant to international law a war crime and that perpetrators of such attacks must be brought to justice," the resolution said.

It called on countries to create special units dedicated to protecting heritage sites and urged increased international cooperation to prevent trafficking of cultural goods from conflict zones.

The ancient city of Palmyra was retaken on March 2 by Syrian government troops backed by Russian forces from IS fighters, three months after losing it to the extremists for a second time.

The militants initially took control of the city in May 2015 and almost immediately began destroying ancient monuments there, before being driven from the city in March 2016 by government troops.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP