Two rare busts rescued from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) in the ancient city of Palmyra and restored in Italy have been returned to Syria, the country's antiquities director said Wednesday (March 1st).
"The two statues were returned to Syria on Tuesday and added to the 400 artefacts that were rescued from Palmyra," Maamun Abdul Karim told AFP.
Recovered by Syrian troops, the two funeral busts had been badly disfigured with what appeared to be hammer blows. They are perhaps the only such artefacts to have left the desert site without being stolen.
Modern technology was used in their restoration, which is also being hailed as a tribute to Khaled al-Assad, former head of antiquities at Palmyra who was murdered by ISIL in 2015 at the age of 82.
The two statues -- one of a woman and the other of a man -- were transported from the Damascus museum to an undisclosed location on Wednesday.
Abdul Karim said the restoration of the busts "is the first real, visible positive step that the international community has taken to protect Syrian heritage".
"This is part of cultural diplomacy, which does not prevent co-ordination among the people of different countries to combat extremism and barbarism," he said.
"In the end, Syrian heritage is human heritage," he added.
The busts date to the second and third centuries and were transferred to Rome via Lebanon.
A team of five specialists worked on the restorations for a month, focusing in particular on the faces.
"What ISIL has destroyed, we have rebuilt," said Antonio Iaccarino, one of the restorers. "Through culture, we also wage an ideological battle."