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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A look at Palmyra, the historic Syrian town retaken from IS

A desert oasis surrounded by palm trees in central Syria, Palmyra is also a strategic crossroads linking the Syrian capital, Damascus, with the country's east and neighboring Iraq.

By: AP | Beirut | Updated: March 28, 2016 2:15:32 pm
 palmyra, islamic state, syria, ISIS, syrian troops, airstrike, syrian airstrike, russian airstrike, world news, islamic state news, syria news, world news, latest news Empty display stands are pictured inside the museum of the historic city of Palmyra, after forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad recaptured the city, in Homs Governorate in this handout picture provided by SANA via Reuters.

A look at Palmyra, the archaeological gem that Syrian troops took back from Islamic State fighters.

LOCATION

A desert oasis surrounded by palm trees in central Syria, Palmyra is also a strategic crossroads linking the Syrian capital, Damascus, with the country’s east and neighboring Iraq. Home to 65,000 people before the latest fighting, the town is located 155 miles (215 kilometers) east of Damascus.

 palmyra, islamic state, syria, ISIS, syrian troops, airstrike, syrian airstrike, russian airstrike, world news, islamic state news, syria news, world news, latest news A general view shows the damage at the Citadel Hotel after forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad recaptured the historic city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate in this handout picture provided by SANA via Reuters. (Image not verified)

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE

A UNESCO world heritage site, Palmyra boasts 2,000-year-old towering Roman-era colonnades and priceless artifacts. Syrians affectionately refer to it as the “Bride of the Desert.”

Palmyra was the capital of an Arab client state of the Roman Empire that briefly rebelled and carved out its own kingdom in the 3rd Century, led by Queen Zenobia. Before the war, it was Syria’s top tourist attraction, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year.

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Palmyra was first mentioned in the archives of Mari in the 2nd millennium B.C., according to UNICEF’s website. The town was the hub of a network of caravan trails that carried silks and spices from eastern Asia to the Mediterranean.

Palmyra became a prosperous region during the Hellenistic period and later became part of the Roman Empire. But its rebellious Queen Zenobia challenged Rome’s authority. The city was plundered in A.D. 272 after she was captured during a long siege.

 palmyra, islamic state, syria, ISIS, syrian troops, airstrike, syrian airstrike, russian airstrike, world news, islamic state news, syria news, world news, latest news View shows damaged artefacts inside the museum of the historic city of Palmyra, after forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad recaptured the city, in Homs Governorate in this handout picture provided by SANA via Reuters. (Image not verified)

In more recent times, Palmyra has had darker associations for Syrians. It was home to the Tadmur prison, a notorious facility where thousands of opponents of President Bashar Assad’s government were reportedly tortured. IS demolished the prison after capturing the town.

DESTRUCTION

Last year, IS destroyed the Temple of Bel, which dated back to A.D. 32, and the Temple of Baalshamin, a structure of stone blocks several stories high fronted by six towering columns. The militants also blew up the Arch of Triumph, which had been built under the Roman emperor Septimius Severus between A.D. 193 and A.D. 211.

The extremists have destroyed ancient sites across their self-styled Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq, viewing them as monuments to idolatry. In August, IS militants beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who had devoted his life to studying Palmyra. His body was later hung from a Roman column.

palmyra, islamic state, syria, ISIS, syrian troops, airstrike, syrian airstrike, russian airstrike, world news, islamic state news, syria news, world news, latest news A flag belonging to the Islamic State fighters is seen on a motorbike after forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad recaptured the historic city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate in this handout picture provided by SANA via Reuters. (Image not verified)

A video circulated online purportedly showed IS fighters shooting dead some 25 captured Syrian soldiers in a Palmyra amphitheater. The killings are believed to have taken place in May, shortly after the extremists captured the town. Another video showed militants killing three captives by tying them to Roman columns and blowing them up.

It’s not yet clear whether the ruins were damaged when Syrian forces retook the town. The Antiquities Ministry said ahead of the town’s fall that the remaining ruins are in good condition. It has vowed to restore the site.

 palmyra, islamic state, syria, ISIS, syrian troops, airstrike, syrian airstrike, russian airstrike, world news, islamic state news, syria news, world news, latest news The damaged sign of the City Council of Palmyra is pictured after forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad recaptured the city, in Homs Governorate in this handout picture provided by SANA via Reuters. (Image not verified)

STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE

The loss of Palmyra marks a major setback for IS, which has been losing ground for months in both Iraq and Syria. The capture of the town brings Syrian forces closer to Raqqa, the IS group’s de facto capital, and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, which is almost entirely held by the extremists.

Despite its battlefield losses, IS retains the ability to carry out large attacks in the Middle East and further afield, such as the bombings in Brussels last week, which killed 31 people.

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