Newspaper article International New York Times

Fabled Ruins at Risk as ISIS Approaches ; Militants Fight Their Way into Palmyra, Crossroads of Four Ancient Cultures

Newspaper article International New York Times

Fabled Ruins at Risk as ISIS Approaches ; Militants Fight Their Way into Palmyra, Crossroads of Four Ancient Cultures

Article excerpt

Islamic State militants have already destroyed historical sites and sold artifacts in other cities, and people fear they may do the same to the famous ruins in Palmyra.

Islamic State fighters battled their way into a part of the central Syrian city of Palmyra on Wednesday, bringing them within blocks of one of the world's most magnificent ancient sites.

As they have swept across Syria and Iraq, the extremists have destroyed or damaged numerous ancient sites and major cultural artifacts, condemning them as idolatry, even as they pillage and sell more portable items to finance their activities. The militants' approach to the ruins of ancient Palmyra, with their grand 2,000- year-old colonnades and tombs, has raised fears both locally and internationally that they, too, may be destroyed.

Modern Palmyra, also known as Tadmur, is a relatively remote desert outpost of 50,000 people, but it sits astride the main road from the Islamic State strongholds in the east to the more populous west of Syria. It is also near gas fields that the militant group has repeatedly attacked, and last week managed to partially seize. Syrian government forces held the militants out of the city for several days, but withdrew from some checkpoints on Wednesday, residents said.

The fact that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has been able to advance into Palmyra, five days after seizing Ramadi, in the Iraqi province of Anbar, demonstrates its ability to carry out complex operations simultaneously on multiple fronts, in the face of resistance on the ground and from the air.

In battles overnight, the militants captured several important locations in the northern part of Palmyra, including two security facilities and the public central bakery, according to local anti- government activists.

Khaled al-Homsi, an activist who opposes both the government and the Islamic State and closely monitors the Palmyra ruins, said that government workers removed artifacts from the museum near the site on Wednesday, and that other objects were taken away earlier for safekeeping. …

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