Ancient Syria City of Palmyra Threatened

Ancient Syria City of Palmyra Threatened
Ancient Syria City of Palmyra Threatened

Another world wonder is on the brink of destruction as IS continues its rampage through the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria. This time it is the ancient oasis city of Palmyra in Syria, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back 2,000 years, CNN reported.

Syrian government troops have reportedly been fighting to contain IS fighters after they launched an attack Wednesday on Tadmur, the modern town near the ruins of Palmyra. Clashes between Syrian forces and IS militants near the ancient city left at least 15 Syrian fighters dead Friday, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The U.N. cultural agency expressed alarm over clashes between IS militants and Syrian government forces near the ancient city of Palmyra. UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said Palmyra should be spared from the fighting, adding, “Heritage sites should not be used for military purposes.”

“I have appealed to all parties concerned to protect Palmyra and to leave it outside their military activity,” she said.

Palmyra is located in the center of Syria, in the Homs governorate, and dates back to the second millennium B.C. It has so far not seen the destruction engulfing the majority of the country, but Syrian officials are certain it will not survive an attack by IS. What’s more, the world heritage site is home to myriad ancient artifacts that the militants are likely to sell.

“If IS enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction,” Mamoun Abdulkarim, Syrian antiquities director, told Agence-France Presse. The militant group has already destroyed several ancient sites in Iraq, including the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, the Iraq Museum, the Persian ruins at Hatra and several other archeological sites near its Iraqi stronghold Mosul.

On Thursday, the militants reportedly blew up the 200-year-old Maryam Khatoon Mosque outside Mosul.

On each of those occasions, the group was accused of looting the heritage sites before destroying them and later smuggling the antiquities out of Iraq to sell on the black market. Selling antiquities has allegedly been the source of millions of dollars for the group.

Abdulkarim told AFP that he was in touch with officials inside Palmyra every half hour to help protect the site as much as possible.

“We can protect the statues and artifacts, but we cannot protect the architecture, the temples. IS will just destroy it from the outside,” he said, adding that “if the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe.”