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UNESCO raises $75.5 mn to protect heritage from war, terror

© AFP/File | The Roman amphitheatre in the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria is one of the site ransacked by the Islamic State group

PARIS (AFP) - 

Seven countries and an American donor on Monday pledged $75.5 million (70 million euros) to a UNESCO-backed fund aimed at protecting the world's cultural heritage against war and terrorism.

French President Francois Hollande hosted the gathering at the Louvre museum in Paris of influential art patrons and world leaders at the initiative of the UN cultural body, the United Arab Emirates and France.

Their International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Zones (ALIPH), based in Geneva, aims to raise $100 million by 2019.

"At Bamiyan, Mosul, Palmyra, Timbuktu and elsewhere, fanatics have engaged in trafficking, looting and the destruction of cultural heritage, adding to the persecution of populations," Hollande said.

The funds will be used to help prevent the destruction of historic sites in conflict zones, combat the illicit trade in cultural artifacts and help restore damaged relics.

France pledged $30 million to the fund, followed by Saudi Arabia with $20 million and co-host UAE with $15 million.

US philanthropist Tom Kaplan pledged $1 million.

A total of 40 countries pledged their support to the initiative at a conference in Abu Dhabi in December.

After Islamic State group fighters seized the ancient ruins of Palmyra in May 2015, they systematically destroyed and looted the temples of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

IS also ravaged the Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq using bulldozers and explosives and ransacked pre-Islamic treasures in Mosul's museum.

Bamiyan, in Afghanistan, and Timbuktu, in Mali, are other UNESCO sites to suffer destruction at the hands of Islamic extremists.

© 2017 AFP