Page last updated at 23:16 GMT, Sunday, 27 April 2008 00:16 UK

Treasures returned to Iraq museum


Some of the museum treasured artefacts

The Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad has held a ceremony to welcome home some 700 artefacts looted after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The items, ranging from gold necklaces to daggers, clay statues and pots, were returned by the Syrian authorities after being seized from traffickers.

The museum's collection was devastated by looters in the days following the American-led invasion of 2003.

While some items have been recovered, thousands are still missing.

Mass return

The returned items, collectively worth millions of dollars, were packed into 17 crates and flown back to Baghdad on Saturday.

Syrian Culture Minister Riyadh Nassan Agha (R) hands back to Iraqi minister Mohammad Abbas al-Oraibi one of some 700 antiquities (23.04.08)

They were briefly displayed for Syrian and Iraqi officials on Sunday, although the museum itself remains closed to the public.

Officials said it was the largest mass return of artefacts since 2003, but that they hoped other countries in the region would follow Syria's lead.

Mohammad Abbas al-Oreibi, Iraq's acting state minister of tourism and archaeology, said he planned to visit Jordan soon to persuade its authorities to hand back more than 150 items.

The museum has in the past housed one of the world's greatest collections, and was particularly known for its Assyrian Hall, made up of stone panels from a royal palace.

The panels escaped being looted simply because they were too big to be carried away.

The UN cultural body Unesco said last month that between 3,000 and 7,000 items are still believed to be missing, including about 40 to 50 that are considered to be of great historic importance.

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