The Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, has signed an agreement to set up a task force of cultural heritage experts to conserve heritage affected by global crises. The unit will be established under the Unesco's global coalition Unite for Heritage.

Italy is the first nation to sign the agreement under the Unite for Heritage initiative, launched in June 2015 to reinforce the international community's ability to protect cultural heritage. Unesco hopes Italy's move will prompt other countries to follow suit.

"The agreement is a major and innovative step in our effort to gain recognition for the importance of cultural heritage in cementing identity, building social cohesion and fostering resilience in times of crisis," Unesco's director general Irina Bokova said in a statement. "We must, therefore, continue pressing for the inclusion of cultural heritage protection in humanitarian and peace efforts."

"The establishment of a Task Force bringing together cultural heritage experts and the Italian Carabinieri force specialized in the fight against the illicit trafficking in cultural property will enhance our capacity to respond to future emergencies," she added.

The coalition was adopted "in response to the recent large-scale, systematic destruction and looting of cultural sites across the world," the UN agency said. It added that the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage may be considered a war crime.

There have been growing threats to cultural heritage in different parts of the world. In war-torn regions of Syria and Iraq, many ancient sites are being destroyed by terror groups such as the Islamic State (Isis).