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The ongoing rebellion in Syria, where a popular uprising and a ruthless dictator have given rise to more than 20,000 deaths — often brutal killings of innocent people — is also wreaking irretrievable damage on Syria’s rich archaeological heritage.

photo by Nelofer Pazira of the citadel gate in Aleppo, for TimeWorld: http://world.time.com/2012/09/12/syrias-looted-past-how-ancient-artifacts-are-being-traded-for-guns/?iid=gs-main-ledeAlong with chasing a quarter-million refugees from the country and more than a million others from their homes, the Assad regime’s no-holds-barred shelling of any place thought to be a rebel hideout has left bulletholes in the walls of ancient Roman cities, roughed up Crusader fortresses, and left Byzantine church sites in shambles. All six of Syria’s UNESCO world heritage sites have been damaged in the fighting.

Meanwhile, rebels are financing their campaign, in part, by looting museums and pillaging archaeological sites, stealing priceless treasures and trading them with established smugglers for guns. Antiquities dealers and collectors with a sad lack of ethics, combined with smugglers who care nothing for law on any level, are turning Syria’s ancient sites into wastelands of rubble.

UNESCO image of the citadel gate in Aleppo, prior to shelling, by Ron Van Oers: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/21/gallery/While the human toll of the war threatens Syria’s present and future, the ransacking of its irreplacable archaeological sites is threatening both its past and its future: tourism to Syria’s heritage sites has been a large part of the economy, and could be again — if anything is left when and if peace prevails.

With so many things in the headlines: the presidential campaign, the economy, mean-spirited videos that spawn deadly riots, it’s easy to forget a long-running story in which the violence just keeps on going.

But if you’re a person of prayer, please voice a concern for the people who are losing both their lives and their heritage in Syria.

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