Syria Takes Historic Palmyra from ISIS With Russian Help

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Syrian government forces successfully recaptured the historic Palmyra site, routing the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and killing 400 of their jihadi fighters.

The fighting against ISIS, which lasted for a number of days, was backed by Russian air strikes, without which the Kremlin said the operation “would have been impossible.”

Moscow said in the operation, 158 Islamic State targets were hit, killing 100 terrorists.

Palmyra is a U.N. World Heritage site located on a strategically-important road between the Syrian capital city Damascus and Deir al-Zour to the northeas. It was overrun in May 2015 when Islamic State fighters travelled hundreds of miles across the desert to capture the ancient city.

At the time, government forces offered no opposition.

The jihadis preceded to blow up priceless artifacts from the site which dates back to the first and second centuries.

While the world looked on in horror, 2,000-year-old temples were destroyed, along with an arch and funerary towers, which the Islamic State considered to be idolatrous.

Speaking after the city’s recapture, officials said the damage wasn’t as bad as originally feared.

"We were expecting the worst. But the landscape, in general, is in good shape," said Syrian state antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim, who said he felt "indescribable joy" that many parts of the city were untouched.

The city contained the ruins of more than 1,000 columns, a Roman theatre and aqueduct and more than 500 tombs. Before the war, 150,000 people toured the site per year.

In August 2015, the Islamic State publicly beheaded famed Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, 82, who had served as Palmyra’s antiquities chief for 50 years, for refusing to reveal where Palmyra’s most valuable artifacts could be found. The jihadis later mutilated his body, chopping it into pieces.

Al-Asaad spent his days studying Pamyra’s treasures. Even after his retirement, he continued his job as an expert and was said to be familiar with every stone in the spectacular ancient city.

The jihadis use money gleaned from selling ancient artifacts to partially fund their militias.

When the Islamic State took over, al-Asaad refused to leave.

"My father used to always say, 'I'll die standing up, like the palm tree of Palmyra'," one of his sons later reported.

Living in the modern, neighboring city of Tadmur after Palmyra had been overrun by the Islamic State, al-Asaad continued his walks in his beloved city daily until he was kidnapped by the Islamic State.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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