Culture is now in the global "war zone", the director of a major cultural summit during the Edinburgh festivals has declared.

Sir Jonathan Mills, the former director of the Edinburgh International Festival, now director of the Edinburgh International Cultural Summit, said that the endangerment or destruction of cultural heritage in several areas of conflict around the world will bring an "edge" to the summit which will take place in Edinburgh from August 24.

The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan by the Taliban, the damage to the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria by Islamic State (IS) and the damage to the Timbuktu shrines in Mali by Islamist fighters have made culture and heritage "on the front line", Sir Jonathan said.

He said: "When the custodian, the 81-year old archaeologist, Khaled al-Asaad, was beheaded at Palmyra [by IS], suddenly, archaeologist, anthropologists, custodian of antiquities, are a front line for the preservation of a collective memory, a universal memory that we are all sharing.

"This is a front line, it is a war zone now."

The murder of Mr Asaad, in August last year, was condemned at the time as an "horrific act" by Unesco, who said he was killed "because he would not betray his deep commitment to Palmyra."

Sir Jonathan said that the appearances of Francesco Bandarin, Assistant Director-General for culture at Unesco and Dr Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director-General Antiquities and Museums in Syria, would be some of the most important at the summit, which has several sessions open to the public.

He said: "I think all the sessions are important, or I wouldn't have programmed it otherwise, but if there is one thing that gives a slight edge at the moment, it was explained to me in a conversation with Francesco Bandarin.

"He is in charge of cultural heritage sites - he said he very much wanted to come here, but he wasn't sure he could, because the week before, he would have to be at the International Court in the Hague.

"Because in addition to charges and allegations of crimes against humanity for atrocities and mass murder in Tumbuktu in Mali in 2012, the international criminal court has agreed for the first time to add charges about the wilful destruction of a world heritage site, that Unesco has been arguing belongs to the whole of humanity.

"It is a very important symbolic charge, it is saying to people, 'there are things that are common to all of us'.

"They are common to all of us because they are unique to a particular people, and they give us an insight into the human being, and another approach to life, the fragility and uncertainty of our existence, that resonates deeply with us because of its integrity."

He added: "Why do we recognise the mud city of Tumbuktu and its 333 structures to Islamic saints? Or those giant Buddhist sculptures in central Afghanistan, or why to we recognise within the jungle those incredible wats around Angkor [in Cambodia]? What is it that inspires us to share with everyone, and is bigger than any single culture and should be the patrimony of the whole of humanity?"

Between 30 and 35 culture ministers from around the world will be represented at the Culture Summit.

Sir Jonathan added that the consequences of the recent Brexit vote will also means that the kind of cultural diplomacy being fostered is even more important.

He added: "It presents a unique occasion for Culture Ministers and policy makers from throughout the world to consider global issues with new perspectives.

"The Summit is delighted to share this opportunity directly with members of the public gathered in Edinburgh for the Festivals, and of course with so many diverse artists both from Scotland and beyond who are in the city during the world’s greatest cultural event."