Amid a worldwide call for preserving Syria's centuries-old heritage, Syria sounds alarm of growing appetite of looters to plunder museums and carry out illegal excavation. The General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums said in a statement that antiquities' looters are randomly digging in archeological sites, mainly in southern Syria, on a daily basis, and that a purchaser is always there to buy immediately from the site. It said that illegal excavation work is still ongoing at Tal al- Ash'ari archaeological site in Daraa province in southern Syria, indicating that thieves place explosives in the area to make drilling. It added that more than a hundred people are carrying out drilling, and sell to dealers directly from the site. Tel al-Ash'ari site is one of the very important sites, and the antiquity department has conducted a number of important archaeological excavations during the past years. Excavation works showed the importance of the site during different eras, especially in the Middle Bronze Age. The government-run directorate said that the "barbaric" acts carried out in the site by some looters are a "great loss due to the inability of the civil society to play its role in the defense of cultural heritage in the absence of archaeological institutions. " Recent media reports have revealed that members of al-Qaida- linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have started a new trade, indicating that they have looted a number of archeological sites in several parts of the country. The most recent case was in the Christian-predominately Maaloula city in the countryside of Syrian capital of Damascus, where al-Nusra's fighters had robbed all the antiques, artifacts, ancient sarcophagi and crosses, and sold through brokers and smugglers outside the country. The head of the United Nations Cultural, Education and Science Organization (UNESCO) expressed concern about the illegal excavation works on the historical artifacts in Syria, saying that the organization warned the auction houses and museums of such problem. The Syrian Economic Steps website said in a recent report that some 4,000 precious artifacts have been looted from Syria worth 20 billion U.S. dollars, warning that looting is still ongoing. It said that 16 out of Syria's 36 museums have been looted and vandalized. Syria, since the beginning of the crisis three years ago, confirmed that most of its museums' moveable items have been taken for safe areas to avoid the repetition of what had happened in Iraq following the ouster of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussain in 2003, when museums were pillaged of treasures. An Italian cultural institution and a group of Italian scientists launched recently a wide-scale campaign to mobilize public opinion and draw their attention to the terrible destruction caused to the cultural heritage and civilization in Syria, indicating that the protracted crisis in Syria shouldn't be an excuse to ignore the disastrous destruction of cultural heritage, which is one of the most important heritages in the world. Syria has many prehistoric, Greek, Byzantine and Islamic heritages. Before the crisis, Syria had attracted many multinational archaeological missions coming for searching new clues of historical facts on the development of civilizations. The UNESCO has listed six Syrian sites on the World Heritage List, including the old cities of Damascus and Aleppo, al-Madhiq castle, the Krak des Chevaliers, the ancient city of Bosra and Palmyra and the ancient villages in northern Syria.