Last updated: 19 October, 2012

Museum collection saved in hard-hit Syrian town

Syrian rebels said Friday they have removed part of a collection of mosaics from Maaret al-Numan’s museum in a bid to save the relics from the regime’s bombardment of the northwestern town.

“We have taken (the pieces) away and placed them somewhere safe, to protect them from the bombings,” rebel commander Raed Mandil said. “They are all under the protection of a museum official.”

Terracotta statues, pottery dating back to 2,000 BC and antique statues have all been removed from vitrines and museum shelves, said an AFP correspondent in the town.

The imposing 17th century building in the heart of Maaret al-Numan, a strategic town in Idlib province that rebels captured last week, houses one of the largest collections of mosaics in the Middle East.

On October 8, a fighter jet dropped a bomb right next to the museum complex, destroying its wooden doors.

Some of the museum’s most fragile pieces were damaged by the blast. Others fell from their stands and were shattered.

The museum collection has suffered little looting, though a pre-Islamic era coin collection has disappeared.

The army used the museum as a base, but it is now occupied by a small group of rebels who say forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are responsible for the missing items.

Rebels overran Maaret al-Numan on October 9, along with a strategic highway linking Damascus to Aleppo, Syria’s second city. The town has since been subjected to fierce daily bombardment by the army.

Experts fear Syria’s heritage is under serious threat because of the conflict, with several historic sites having already suffered damage.