In the hours after Syrian government forces recaptured Palmyra from the Islamic State (IS) group on Sunday, images began to emerge that showed the extent of damage that had been wrought on the ancient city since it was occupied 10 months ago.
After seizing control of the UNESCO World Heritage site in May 2015, IS group militants destroyed a number of Palmyra’s archaeological relics, including the Temple of Bel and the Arch of Triumph. The IS group also beheaded Palmyra’s retired antiquities chief, Khaled al-Asaad, who had looked after the ancient city for 40 years.
But as the first photos of Palmyra following its liberation began to emerge on Sunday, it appeared that many of its Roman-era ruins, such as the Agora and the ancient theatre, were still intact.
Syria’s antiquities chief, Maamoun Abdulkarim, said he was overjoyed at the discovery. "We were expecting the worst. But the landscape, in general, is in good shape," he told AFP from Damascus.
Abdulkarim’s comments were echoed by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
"I welcome the liberation of the Palmyra archeological site, martyr city inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which carries the memory of the Syrian people, and the values of cultural diversity, tolerance and openness that have made this region a cradle of civilisation," she said in a statement.
Bokova added that as soon as security conditions permitted, UNESCO was ready to head to Palmyra to assess the overall destruction, which she described as a “war crime”.
While many of Palmyra’s treasures look to have escaped unscathed, the same was not true of its modern town, home to some 70,000 people before the outbreak of Syria’s conflict five years ago.
After days of fierce fighting between IS group militants and Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes, whole neighbourhoods were left deserted, with some buildings reduced to rubble.
The recapture of Palmyra came as a major blow to the IS group, which declared a caliphate across large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The Syrian army said that the city would now be used as a “launchpad” for operations against IS group strongholds in the provinces of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2016-03-28