Islamic State Seizes Ancient City From Syrian Forces

UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra in danger of destruction at militants' hands.

Reuters
Reuters
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A file picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometers northeast of Damascus.
A file picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows a partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometers northeast of Damascus.Credit: Reuters
Reuters
Reuters

Islamic State militants stormed the Syrian city of Palmyra on Wednesday, 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. "This is the entire world's battle."

The attack is part of a westward advance by Islamic State that is adding to the pressures on the overstretched military and allied militia. The group holds tracts of land in the north and east of Syria and is now edging towards the more heavily populated areas along the western flank of the country.

Unique cultural heritage

UNESCO called for an immediate halt to the fighting and called for international efforts to protect the population "and safeguard the unique cultural heritage".

The Syrian military said in a statement Islamic State had entered a northern district of Palmyra and NDF fighters were trying to stop them "infiltrating" other areas. It said a Syrian air force strike in the area had killed and wounded "dozens of terrorists" and destroyed five vehicles.

Islamic State has destroyed antiquities and ancient monuments in neighboring Iraq and is being targeted by U.S.-led air strikes in both countries.

Palmyra's ancient monuments, which lie on the south-western fringe of the modern city, were put on UNESCO's World Heritage in danger list in 2013. The ruins were part of a desert oasis that was one of the most significant cultural centers of the ancient world.

Islamic State supporters posted pictures on social media showing what they said were gunmen in the streets of Palmyra, which is the location of one of Syria's biggest weapons depots as well as army bases, an airport and a major prison.

In Syria's northeast, Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes pressed an attack on Islamic State that has killed at least 170 members of the group this week, a Kurdish official and the Observatory said. U.S-led forces have concentrated their air strikes on Syria's north and east, areas out of government control.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

SUBSCRIBE
Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott