World

UNESCO chief alarmed by fighting near Syrian ancient city of Palmyra

  • The chief of the U.N.'s education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, left, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, right, at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 15, 2015. Bokova is in Lebanon to meet with Lebanese senior officials and students, and pledge UNESCO’s support to the country’s efforts to respond to the regional crisis and foster cultural diversity. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

    The chief of the U.N.'s education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, left, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, right, at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 15, 2015. Bokova is in Lebanon to meet with Lebanese senior officials and students, and pledge UNESCO’s support to the country’s efforts to respond to the regional crisis and foster cultural diversity. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)  (The Associated Press)

  • The chief of the U.N.'s education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, left, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, right, at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 15, 2015. Bokova is in Lebanon to meet with Lebanese senior officials and students, and pledge UNESCO’s support to the country’s efforts to respond to the regional crisis and foster cultural diversity. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

    The chief of the U.N.'s education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, left, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, right, at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 15, 2015. Bokova is in Lebanon to meet with Lebanese senior officials and students, and pledge UNESCO’s support to the country’s efforts to respond to the regional crisis and foster cultural diversity. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)  (The Associated Press)

  • The chief of the U.N.'s education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, speaks to reporters after her meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 15, 2015. Bokova is visiting Lebanon to meet with Lebanese senior officials and students, and pledge UNESCO’s support to the country’s efforts to respond to the regional crisis and foster cultural diversity. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

    The chief of the U.N.'s education and culture agency, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, speaks to reporters after her meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, May 15, 2015. Bokova is visiting Lebanon to meet with Lebanese senior officials and students, and pledge UNESCO’s support to the country’s efforts to respond to the regional crisis and foster cultural diversity. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)  (The Associated Press)

The U.N. cultural agency's chief says she is alarmed by developments in Syria, where Islamic State militants are getting closer to the ancient city of Palmyra — Syria's most famous UNESCO world heritage site.

Irina Bokova says Palmyra, famous for its 2,000-year-old ruins, should not become the target of any military activity. She spoke to reporters in Beirut after meeting with Prime Minister Tammam Salam on Friday.

Activist groups such as the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees say that Syrian government warplanes are attacking positions of the Islamic State group on the eastern edge of Palmyra.

They are also reporting fighting on the ground.

Damascus has urged the international community to protect Palmyra from IS, which recently destroyed several archaeological sites in neighboring Iraq.