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The truce in Syria bodes well for salvaging our Cultural Heritage

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The truce in Syria bodes well for salvaging our Cultural Heritage

Franklin Lamb


The tentative cessation of hostilities in Syria, which came into effect on 2/28/2016, brokered by Washington and Moscow, is only in its second week. The sides have agreed to an initial cease-fire of two weeks with an extension if it works. The AL-Assad government has announced that it would participate in renewed peace talks in Geneva, offering new proposals, which are due to begin next week (3/14/16). The opposition is still considering whether to attend despite a lull in fighting.

It is well documented that there have been daily incidents of artillery shelling, airstrikes and clashes. Yet, for the nearly 12 million displaced civilians, half of Syria's population, it's a much welcomed diminution of the five year slaughter which has decimated hundreds of towns and nearly 1000 villages, killing between 300,000 and 475,000 depending on which body counts one credits. As of this week nearly half a million Syrians trapped in areas under siege are finally receiving desperately-needed food and medicine.

Various monitoring groups including the office of Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy for Syria, have estimated that the overall per-truce violence has decreased by 90 percent. Opposition groups, including the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which claims scores of on the scene volunteers, have agreed with this estimate. But due to "logistical" problems the cease-fire has failed to achieve one of its most important objectives which to facilitate the free flow of desperately needed aid supplies to more than 160, 000 people in nearly two dozen besieged areas. More time is required to see if there will be reasons to discourage more massive numbers of citizens from fleeing Syria and whether those who have done and who number nearly five million, will contemplate returning from neighboring countries or from even further afield including Europe.

In all areas where the bombing and shelling have ceased there is palpable relief and even reported celebrations. Damascus is perhaps the main city that has experienced relative peace without serious breaches. Much of Damascus is nearly blissful with hope aided one imagines by the arrival of spring. Visitors notice many family picnics and children filling this cities many parks, playgrounds and green spaces.

From Lebanon one hears expressions by Syrian refugees who have been forced to flee their homes, declaring their intentions to return to Syria as soon as possible, within weeks, if the cessation of hostilities even partially holds. Explaining that his family's home in Aleppo is reduced to a pile of rubble, Ahmad, a father of six, explained to this observer, "If the violence ends, and if we can get water back, we will return home and live on our property in a tent and immediately start to rebuild."

There are also reports that in certain areas of Syria hosting archaeological sites, most also being tourist destinations, citizens and volunteer civil society organizations are ready to help restore them immediately when security conditions allow.

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Since 2013, Professor Franklin P. Lamb has traveled extensively throughout Syria. His primary focus has been to document, photograph, research and hopefully help preserve the vast and irreplaceable archaeological sites and artifacts in (more...)

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