News Middle East

Thursday 22 February 2018

Experts left in shock as Isil destroys Palmyra's museum

Syrian government troops patrol Palmyra following its recapture from Isil on Sunday Photo: REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters
Syrian government troops patrol Palmyra following its recapture from Isil on Sunday Photo: REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Albert Aji

Syrian antiquities experts have expressed shock at the destruction that Isil has wrought inside Palmyra's museum, where scores of artifacts were smashed before government troops drove the extremists out of the historic town.

Syria's head of antiquities and museums, Maamoun ­Abdul-Karim, said a team from his department would head to Palmyra to estimate the losses.

He added that he would go himself once bomb squads had finished removing explosives planted by Isil before they fled.

The recapture of Palmyra by Syrian government forces on Sunday was an important victory over Isil, which had waged a 10-month reign of terror there.

It also marked the first major strategic defeat for the terrorist group since an international agreement to battle terrorism in Syria took effect last year.

During its rule of Palmyra, Isil demolished some of its best-known artifacts and monuments, including two large temples dating back more than 1,800 years, and a Roman triumphal archway.

The sprawling outdoor site was one of Syria's main tourist attractions before the civil war.

Isil also killed scores of ­people, including the archaeological site's 81-year-old director, Riad al-Asaad, who was beheaded in August after he reportedly had refused to divulge where authorities had hidden some of the treasures before Isil captured the town.

Isil also demolished Palmyra's infamous Tadmur prison, where thousands of government opponents had allegedly been tortured.

The Sunni extremist group, which has imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across the territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, believes that ancient relics promote idolatry and says it is destroying them as part of a purge of paganism - although it is also believed to have sold looted antiquities to finance its operations.

Before Palmyra fell to Isil last year, authorities had been able to rescue more than 400 statues and hundreds of artifacts that were moved to safe areas, but larger statues could not be moved.

On Sunday, Syrian state TV showed the rubble left over from the destruction of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, as well as the damaged archway, the supports of which are still standing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday called Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani to discuss Syria. Both leaders described the retaking of Palmyra as a "true landmark event" according to the Kremlin's website.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that it was only a small, though important, part of the Russian air force that supported the operation.

During a Monday conference call with reporters, Peskov said that even though a large part of the Russian military had left Syria, the remaining air assets would continue to fight "terrorist groups" and help the Syrian army.

Irish Independent

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