UNESCO is calling on member states and international bodies to help make sure that elements of Syria's rich cultural heritage are not pilfered and sent abroad for sale amid violence in the country.

The U.N. cultural agency says director-general Irina Bokova has alerted agencies such as world police body Interpol and the World Customs Organization that objects from Syria could turn up on the international antiquities market.

In a statement Friday, Bokova said UNESCO is ready to look into media reports of damage to Syria's cultural heritage "as soon as this becomes possible."

The Syrian government has been hit by international sanctions for a yearlong crackdown on an opposition uprising. The U.N. estimates the violence has left more than 9,000 people dead.