Following the self-declared Islamic State’s capture of Palmyra, concern today is turning to the security of the ancient Syrian city’s archaeological sites and fears that the Islamist extremists might try to destroy them, as they have done elsewhere.
As we reported on Wednesday, UNESCO has described the city of 50,000 people as “one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.”
NPR’s Allison Meuse reports from Beirut that “Despite the war, Palmyra has been relatively stable these past two years. It was under government control, and electricity and water were still working. It also became a refuge. When ISIS took over most of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa provinces further east, many of those people fled to Palmyra. And today they’re especially vulnerable, since they already fled ISIS once.”
The New York Times says Palmyra, located about 130 miles northeast of the Syrian capital, Damascus, is “home to some of the world’s most magnificent remnants of antiquity, as well as the grimmer modern landmark of Tadmur Prison, where Syrian dissidents have languished over the decades.”
The BBC adds: “The ancient ruins are situated in a strategically important area on the road between the capital, Damascus, and the contested eastern city of Deir al-Zour.”
The capture of Palmyra comes close on the heels of the extremist group’s capture of Ramadi in western Iraq over the weekend. Palmyra lies close to oil and gas fields and its capture could bolster revenues that ISIS has reportedly garnered from the sale of fossil fuels.
The Associated Press quotes an activist in Homs who goes by the name of Bebars al-Talawy also saying that the Islamist fighters control the ruins at Palmyra but that there was no evidence they had damaged any so far.