Syrian Rebels' New Cash Source: Stolen Artifacts

Fighters have become 'archeologists': rebel

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 13, 2013 7:39 AM CST

(Newser) – Short on funds, Syrian rebels have been turning to a new source of income: selling snatched artifacts. "Some days we are fighters; others we are archeologists," says a rebel who counts ancient Sumerian tablets among his finds. Fighters, who control most of the top archeological areas, say a typical find can bring in $50,000. But reports conflict as to how much has been stolen, the Washington Post notes: A French archeological organization says 12 of 36 Syrian museums have been looted, but museum officials say most missing objects have simply been moved to secure spots.

But experts are worried about what could happen, and see a shift: Plunderers who once worked under the cover of darkness "are digging in broad daylight," says one official. Still, rebels say the money is essential and "within our right": "We have been left to face an entire army without arms, without money, and without help from the outside world." The materials are sold in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, fighters note. As for the government, it's still got Russia as a source for weapons, the AP reports. Russia's top arms trading official doesn't plan to stop shipments, he says, since the UN hasn't banned it and the arms are mostly for defense and repair.

This citizen journalism image shows Free Syrian Army fighters next to a hole allegedly made during an airstrike by government forces, in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.
This citizen journalism image shows Free Syrian Army fighters next to a hole allegedly made during an airstrike by government forces, in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.   (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)
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