|U.S. officials to meet Syrian terrorist group||
Syrian rebel commanders from the terrorist Islamic Front which seized control of bases belonging to Western-backed rebels last week are due to hold talks with U.S. officials in Turkey in coming days, rebel and opposition sources said on Saturday.
According to AFP, a rebel fighter with the Islamic Front said he expected the talks in Turkey to discuss whether the United States would help arm the front and assign to it responsibility for maintaining order in the rebel-held areas of northern Syria.
He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks, and gave no further details. Diplomatic sources in Turkey said that U.S. Syria envoy Robert Ford was expected in Istanbul soon but his schedule was not yet confirmed.
The expected contacts between Washington and the radical fighters reflect the extent to which the Islamic Front alliance has eclipsed the more moderate Free Syrian Army brigades - which Western and Arab powers tried in vain to build into a force able to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The talks could also decide the future direction of the Islamic Front, which is engaged in a standoff with yet more radical Sunni Muslim fighters from the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The Islamic Front, formed by the unification of six major Islamist groups last month, seized control a week ago of weapons stores nominally under the control of the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Command (SMC).
It has since said it was asked to take over the base by the SMC to protect it from attack by ISIL fighters. Whether or not the move was requested, it demonstrated how little power the Western-backed SMC wields in rebel-held Syria.
An SMC rebel commander also said he had been told the Islamic Front would hold talks with U.S. officials in Turkey in the coming days.
The infighting and rivalries among the rebels have undermined their fight against Assad in Syria's 2-1/2 year civil war, which has killed more than 125,000 people according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The conflict has also reduced whole city districts across Syria to rubble, causing tens of billions of dollars of damage, driven 2 million refugees to seek safety abroad and made millions more homeless and vulnerable to a winter storm which has covered the region in snow and biting rain.
UNESCO says Syria’s cultural heritage being targeted
Meanwhile, UNESCO’s Director-General warned Friday of illegal archaeological excavations across war-torn Syria, saying the United Nations’ cultural, education and science entity has called on auction houses and museums to beware.
Amid the widespread death, destruction, and displacement during Syria’s 2 ½-year civil war, UNESCO says the country’s great cultural heritage is at risk.
"The biggest danger there, apart from the destruction we have seen of the world heritage sites…is the illicit archeological excavations," said Irina Bokova, head of UNESCO, according to Reuters. "This is something that is not very high on the radar of the international community."
Bokova was in New York Friday to speak at a UN event on the protection of journalists, who are also another point of concern in Syria. International news organizations demanded this week that Syrian rebels stop kidnapping journalists, stating that dozens of abductions have occurred.
Syria’s head of antiquities and museums, Maamoun Abdulkarim, said in February that illegal archeological digs have threatened tombs in Palmyra and the Bronze Age settlement of Ebla.
Bokova sounded similar concerns in August about the preservation of Syrian treasures amid its bloody civil war. She says the threats have grown, and that UNESCO has raised the issue of unofficial excavations with UN Syria peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby.
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|Last Updated on 14 December 2013 17:38|