Lebanon returns 337 ancient artifacts to Iraq – ministry

Officials from Iraq and Lebanon sign documents as the Lebanese ministry of culture returns 337 ancient artifacts to Iraq during a ceremony at the National Museum of Beirut, February 6, 2022. (Photo: Iraqi News Agency)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Lebanon on Sunday handed over to Iraq 337 ancient artifacts that had been on display in a private Lebanese museum for years.

Lebanese Minister of Culture Mohammad Mortada returned the items, including clay tablets, to Iraqi ambassador to Lebanon Haider Shyaa al-Barak during a ceremony held at the National Museum of Beirut, according to Xinhua.

“We are celebrating the handing over of 337 artifacts that are of different eras of civilization in Mesopotamia,” Xinhua quoted Barak as saying.

Following the ceremony, the Lebanese minister also spoke by phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, saying the procedures for transferring the antiquities to Iraq would be organized on Monday.

Iraq’s ancient heritage has been decimated by conflict, destruction and looting, especially since 2003.

Authorities have been trying to track down, retrieve and preserve thousands of archaeological relics which are still missing.

In December, the United States returned to Iraq 17,000 artifacts and a 3,500-year-old tablet recounting the epic of Gilgamesh, the ancient Sumerian tale believed to be one of the world’s first pieces of literature.

U.S. authorities seized the Gilgamesh tablet in 2019 after it was smuggled, auctioned and sold to an arts dealer in Oklahoma and displayed at a museum in Washington, D.C. A court ordered its forfeiture in July.

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