PARIS : France wants to set up a “refuge” for antiquities from the Middle East to protect them from destruction by the Islamic State group or other zealots bent on wiping out centuries of art and culture they consider un-Islamic.
President Francois Hollande said the plan would offer “asylum” to artefacts threatened by “fanatics who are attacking the living and the dead, all who have humanity today and tomorrow, and those of yesterday.”
Hollande announced the plan in a speech Tuesday at Unesco, the U.N.’s cultural agency.
The plan calls for French experts to work with local authorities — archaeologists and art experts if possible — to help remove works of art or other antiquities that can be moved and take them for safe-keeping in France.
The Sunni Muslim extremists in Syria have imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across a self-declared “caliphate,” declaring such ancient relics promote idolatry. They are also believed to sell looted antiquities, bringing in significant sums of cash.
Heritage sites have been damaged constantly since Syria’s war began. Syrian government officials say they have transferred some 300,000 artifacts to safe places in recent years, including from IS-controlled areas.