Syrians on both sides of the conflict must take steps to protect the country's rich historical and archeological heritage stretching back thousands of years, a top US official warned Tuesday.
"We are always concerned in situations like this. And we've seen it in other areas of conflict, whether it was in Afghanistan, or in Iraq," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.
In war zones "criminal elements, bad actors" can "take advantage of the chaos and of the violence to loot, to steal patrimony that belongs to all the people of the country, to spirit it across borders," she warned.
UNESCO has already voiced alarm at the destruction of ancient sites in Syria, where some of the cities date back to 2,000 BC. There are currently six UNESCO world heritage sites in Syria.
Aleppo, which has borne much of the fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, is widely regarded as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Located at the end of the Silk Road, Aleppo was the crossroads for centuries of many trade routes and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.
The Syrian people need to do what they can to protect the country's patrimony so when Assad is ousted "the great history and culture of the country has not been stripped from them," Nuland said.
In October, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Irina Bokova warned "the fighting is now destroying cultural heritage that bears witness to the country's millenary history valued and admired the world over."