Thursday 18 January 2018

Regime air strike damages ancient Syrian site

An Isil flag flies above the 2,000-year-old city of Palmyra – a Unesco world heritage site 215km from Damascus, Syria
An Isil flag flies above the 2,000-year-old city of Palmyra – a Unesco world heritage site 215km from Damascus, Syria

Louisa Loveluck

An air strike by the Syrian regime has caused damage in the world famous ancient city of Palmyra, according to locals.

The attack, which took place on Saturday, damaged the thick northern wall running alongside the Temple of Bel-Shamin, said sources in the area.

Isil militants seized the modern city of Palmyra from government control last month. Despite fears that the militants would smash the ruins as an act of propaganda, the site appears to have been left untouched by the jihadists to date, apparently in an attempt to curry favour with local residents.

"This [attack] was done by the Syrian regime. But we don't know why as there was nothing to hit apart from the ruins. There is no Isil in the area: they are all at least two kilometres away," a resident, who gave his name as Osama Alkhateb, said .

This would not be the first time the Syrian regime has been responsible for damage at the site during the country's four year-long civil war.

In 2013, troops fortified within the ancient ruins. The ensuing clashes resulted in damage to exterior walls and the collapse of several columns within the sand-coloured Temple of Bel. Regime troops have also been complicit - and sometimes directly involved - in looting at Palmyra, and other sites.

"Palmyra has been looted and extensively damaged, but this was long before Isil came into the picture," said Brian Daniels, of University of Pennsylvania Museum, who works on a project training Syrians to protect artefacts.

Last month, Unesco expressed deep concern over reports of fighting around the Palmyra, a site that once sat at the heart of the third century Queen Zenobia's empire. Its undulating ruins include colonnaded streets and the temple of Baal, a deity worshipped in many ancient communities.

Regime damage to priceless cultural artefacts continued on Monday, after a barrel bomb packed with explosives hit an archaeological museum in the north Syrian city of Maarat al-Numaan. Michael Danti, an archaeologist at Boston University, said the strike was typical of President Bashar al-Assad regime's "deliberate targeting of heritage".

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