In what seems like a page from the Indiana Jones movies, Britain is setting up a group of "rescue archaeologists" to rescue or restore historic sites and artefacts destroyed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
To this end, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is creating a "cultural protection fund" to pay for experts to restore treasures destroyed by fanatics, Daily Mail reported.
On Saturday, British government sources said the new fund would "safeguard the heritage of countries affected by conflict or at risk of coming under attack for ideological reasons".
British curators will meet their counterparts in Libya, Syria and Iraq to identify items that could be saved.
Digital recordings of ancient sites will be made to allow future generations to view them if they are ever destroyed.
British Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is leading the programme and a summit on this issue will be held later in the year.
He told Daily Mail: "While the UK's priority will continue to be the human cost of these conflicts, I am in no doubt we must also do what we can to prevent any further cultural destruction. "The loss of a country's heritage threatens its very identity."
In a related development, ISIS militants have laid landmines and explosives at the site of the ancient ruins in Palmyra in Syria, the head of Syria's antiquities department said yesterday, adding that the purpose of the move was unclear.
Palmyra is famed for its extensive and well-preserved Greco-Roman ruins.
The antiquities official told AFP over the phone from Syrian capital Damascus that he had also received reports from Palmyra residents that mines were laid at the site.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources on the ground, said explosives were laid at the ruins in the town in central Homs province on Saturday.
"But it is not known if the purpose is to blow up the ruins or to prevent regime forces from advancing into the town," said observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
ISIS fighters captured Palmyra on May 21.
The city's fall prompted fears that the extremist group would seek to destroy the Unesco World Heritage site as they have done with heritage sites elsewhere in Syria and Iraq.
So far, there have been no reports of damage by ISIS to the ruins or antiquities in Palmyra, though the group did reportedly enter the city's museum, which was largely emptied of its collection before the jihadists arrived, AFP reported.
This article was first published on June 22, 2015.
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