Friday 17 November 2017

Fears for ancient Roman site as Isil advance on Palmyra

Syrian citizens walking in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra.
Syrian citizens walking in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra.

Richard Spencer in London

Islamic State fighters are attacking Syrian troops near the ancient Roman site of Palmyra, one of the world's finest set of classical ruins.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) have suffered losses in Iraq but have continued to advance against the Assad regime forces in neighbouring Syria.

In the north-east of the country, they have cut supply lines from regime-held Homs to Deir Ezzour, a city in a largely Isil-held area, parts of which are holding out for the government.

While the Isil advance is not aimed at the ancient city itself, it has raised fears for its future.

The fighting has now brought Isil within reach of Palmyra and the city of Tadmor, in which the ruins are sited.


"Violent clashes between Isil and the government troops are still taking place around the city," the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said.

"The clashes resulted in the death of 70 members of the government troops at least, including 6 officers and 40 Isil militants, including two Arab commanders."

The Isil advance is not aimed at the ancient city itself, but has raised fears for its future.

In Iraq, Isil fighters have filmed themselves smashing up ancient sites like the Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Nineveh and museums, saying statues there were "idolatrous".

The Iraqi government says the attacks are actually cover for looting the sites, selling antiquities on the black market.

Palmyra was capital of a local kingdom that was absorbed into the Roman Empire in the 1st Century AD, becoming wealthy on the back of its position on key trade routes. Among the surviving buildings are colonnades, temples and a well-preserved Roman theatre.

The jihadists advanced after seizing the strategic town of Al-Sukhnah from government troops.

The regime continues to insist that despite recent defeats it is winning the war against "terrorism".

The advance towards Palmyra coincided with a Unesco conference in Cairo to discuss the threat posed to ancient monuments by Isil. "The looting of archaeological sites has reached an unprecedented scale," Irina Bokova, Unesco's head, said. "Cultural cleansing is being used as a tactic to terrify people. It is a war crime." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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