Magazine article The Middle East

Syria: Fears for Ancient City of Palmyra

Magazine article The Middle East

Syria: Fears for Ancient City of Palmyra

Article excerpt

Islamic State militants have stormed the Syrian city of Palmyra, seizing it from government forces in fierce fighting as civilians were evacuated and Syria's antiquities chief called on the world to save its ancient monuments.

The capture of Palmyra is the first time the al Qaeda offshoot has taken control of a city directly from the Syrian army and allied forces, which have already lost ground in the northwest and south to other insurgent groups in recent weeks.

The central city, also known as Tadmur, is built alongside the remains of a oasis civilization whose colonnaded streets, temple and theatre have stood for 2,000 years. It is home to modern military installations, and sits on a desert highway linking the capital Damascus with Syria's eastern provinces, mostly under rebel control.

"Praise God, (Palmyra) has been liberated," said an Islamic State fighter speaking by Internet from the area. He said Islamic State was in control of a hospital in the city which Syrian forces had used as a base before withdrawing.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Islamic State had seized almost all of the city. It said it was unclear what had happened to forces stationed at an army outpost on its outskirts or the fate of a major military prison. Syrian state television said pro-government National Defense Forces (NDF) had evacuated civilians after large groups of Islamic State fighters entered the city from the north.

"The news at the moment is very bad. There are small groups that managed to enter the city from certain points," Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim told Reuters earlier on Wednesday.

Abdulkarim said hundreds of statues had been moved to safe locations but called on the Syrian army, opposition and international community to save the site.

"The fear is for the museum and the large monuments that cannot be moved," he said. …

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