New report details 104 Gaza cultural landmarks destroyed or damaged The nonprofit group Heritage for Peace's preliminary findings show 104 historic religious buildings, museums and archaeological sites have been destroyed or damaged.

More than 100 Gaza heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli attacks

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As we've been reporting, Israel's aggressive military response to the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel has killed more than 15,000 people so far - that, according to Gaza's health ministry. And reports on the ground, as well as satellite images, show that thousands of homes have been destroyed. But NPR's Chloe Veltman reports that there have also been tremendous losses to the region's ancient cultural heritage.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: The Rafah Museum in southern Gaza was dedicated to teaching about the region's long and multilayered heritage. In a video posted to the museum's Facebook page on October 11, museum director Suhaila Shaheen stands amid the rubble of the destroyed space. The wall behind her has completely collapsed.


SUHAILA SHAHEEN: (Non-English language spoken).

VELTMAN: Shaheen describes some of the priceless items in the museum's collection now lost - coins, precious stones, copper plates, clothes, all kinds of artifacts dating back to times in Gaza's history when the region was a hub for commerce and culture under Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine rule.


SHAHEEN: (Non-English language spoken).

VELTMAN: "The museum is in God's care now," Shaheen says. The Rafah Museum is one of more than a hundred cultural landmarks in Gaza damaged or destroyed over the past few weeks. Other significant losses include the Great Omari Mosque, one of the most renowned mosques in all of Palestine, the Church of Saint Porphyrius, thought to be the third-oldest church in the entire world, and a 2,000-year-old Roman cemetery excavated only last year.

ISBER SABRINE: If this heritage will not be more in Gaza, it will be big a loss of the identity of the people in Gaza.

VELTMAN: That's Isber Sabrine. He's the president of Heritage For Peace. The Catalonia-based NGO published a preliminary survey of the damage to cultural heritage sites in Gaza. Sabrine says they plan to continue this work both on the ground and using satellite imagery.

SABRINE: The people in Gaza, they have the right to keep and to save this heritage, to tell the history, the importance of this land.

VELTMAN: The 1954 Hague Convention, ratified by the Palestinians and the Israelis, is supposed to safeguard landmarks from the ravages of war. But Gaza's heritage sites have repeatedly been damaged in past attacks. In a statement sent to NPR, UNESCO shared its concerns about the precarious state of heritage sites in the Gaza Strip and called on all parties involved to strictly adhere to international law.

Chloe Veltman, NPR News.


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