Beirut: Nearly 300 sites of incalculable value for Syria and human history have been destroyed, damaged or looted in almost four years of war, the UN said yesterday, citing "alarming" satellite evidence.
From prehistoric settlements and ancient markets to world-famous mosques and Crusader castles, Syria is home to countless treasures.
But since the country's brutal war erupted in 2011, heritage sites have been plundered by all sides -- regime loyalists, anti-government rebels, jihadist fighters and even desperate residents.
After a major survey, the United Nations said that detailed analysis of satellite images from several hundred sites had unearthed the full scale of the damage.
Of the 290 sites, 24 had been destroyed, 104 severely damaged, 85 moderately damaged and 77 possibly damaged.
The UN said the report was "alarming testimony of the ongoing damage that is happening to Syria's vast cultural heritage", and called for efforts to scale up their protection.
The satellite images were put together by UNOSAT, a Geneva-based UN institute.
They focused on 18 areas, six of them listed as UNESCO world heritage sites: the Old City of Aleppo, Bosra, Damascus, the Dead Cities of northern Syria, the Crac des Chevaliers castle and the Greco-Roman oasis of Palmyra.
"It is very sad for Syria as well as the world that this is happening," UNOSAT director Einar Bjorgo told AFP. "Humankind is losing hundreds and thousands of years of heritage."
Aleppo, Syria's former commercial hub where settlements date back 7,000 years, has been especially hard hit in fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The 11th century Great Mosque of Aleppo saw its minaret reduced to rubble in fighting, and the famed Carlton Hotel has been pulverised, leaving behind a huge crater, the images show.