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$75 million pledged to protect heritage sites in war zones

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016 file photo, a stone tablet with cuneiform writing in the foreground as UNESCO's Iraq representative Louise Haxthausen documents the damage wreaked by the Islamic State group at the ancient site of Nimrud, Iraq. France is trying to raise tens of millions of dollars from international donors who gathered Monday March 20, 2017, to protect cultural heritage sites threatened by war and the kind of destruction carried out by Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

PARIS — World donors pledged more than $75 million yesterday to an historic UNESCO-backed alliance to protect cultural heritage sites threatened by war and the wave of ideological-driven destruction carried out by Islamic State group militants.

French President Francois Hollande, speaking at a donors' conference in Paris' Louvre Museum, passionately called on more countries to contribute to the newly-created heritage alliance and help push it past its "ambitious" $100 million goal.

IS militants have stolen or destroyed a host of cultural artifacts, including the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra, the Mosul museum in Iraq and the 13th century B.C. Assyrian capital of Nimrud, which is also in Iraq.

"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.

In coordination with UNESCO, the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) aims to prevent heritage site destruction, fight trafficking of stolen artifacts and pay for restoration. But it also seeks to create a global network of sites in which artifacts endangered by fighting or terrorism could be temporarily stored for safekeeping.

"The first emergency is Iraq. We will need to carry out a precise inventory of the damages to monuments, museums and libraries. But there are other critical situations. Mali, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria," he added.

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Hollande suggested yesterday that a Group of Seven culture ministers meeting in Florence next week could be used to get further donations.

Seven countries and one philanthropist pledged a total of $75.5 million at yesterday conference, which was held in an ancient Middle Eastern sculpture-clad wing of the Louvre.

France pledged the most at $30 million, with support forthcoming from Arab countries — including Saudi Arabia ($20 million), the United Arab Emirates ($15 million), Kuwait ($5 million) and Morocco ($1.5 million.)

Luxembourg pledged $3 million, and private donor Thomas Kaplan promised $1 million.

Switzerland pledged a further $8 million in operational and administrative costs to help set up the fund's first headquarters in Geneva.

Italy, meanwhile, said it would provide an ALIPH task force that includes military personnel and conservation experts.

Germany, China and Mexico said they would help by storing the heritage objects threatened by war in national museums, and lobby countries to do the same.

The first concrete steps to creating ALIPH came about in a meeting between Hollande and Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in the Emirati capital in December.

"This achievement is truly historic," said Mohamed Al Mubarak, the crown prince's special representative.

"Since the Abu Dhabi declaration was signed in December 2016, the efforts to transform an idea into a concrete action have been extraordinary.... This effort has happened and will not be forgotten."

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