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Destruction In Palmyra Not As Bad As Feared

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Initial assessments of Palmyra following the expulsion of ISIL have shown that whilst some of the most recognisable artefacts, such as Temple Bel and the Arch of Triumph have been destroyed, the rest of the site remains “in general … in good shape.”

 

The news will raise hopes that the ancient Iraqi cities of Nimrud and Hatra will at least partially survive occupation by the group, which routinely destroys sites and monuments of archaeological significance.

 

ISIL captured Palmyra in May last year, and immediately took antiquities scholar Khalid al-Asaad hostage. The 82 year old had worked as head of antiquities at the UNESCO World Heritage Site for over 40 years, but refused to tell his captors the whereabouts of valuable artefacts that had been hidden. He was murdered, and his headless body hung in the main square of the town.

 

At the time Syrian state antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said: “Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded … and his corpse still hanging from one of the ancient columns in the centre of a square in Palmyra. The continued presence of these criminals in this city is a curse and bad omen on [Palmyra] and every column and every archaeological piece in it.”

 

His mood was considerably more optimistic yesterday however as he spoke to journalists from AFP and The Guardian. “The landscape, in general, is in good shape … we will issue a challenge to international terrorism, that no matter what you do you cannot erase our history, and we will not sit idle and weep over the ruins.”

 

Soldiers from the Assad regime, as well as some Russians, picked their way through the ancient ruins of both Eastern and Western architecture, mindful of unexploded ordinance left by fleeing ISIL militants. One Syrian soldier told AFP: “We were so scared we would enter the ruins and find them completely destroyed. We were afraid to look … But when we entered and saw it, we were relieved.”

 

It remains to be seen what is left of the Iraqi heritage sites of Ashur, Hatra and Nimrud, although videos released just under a year ago appeared to show much more widespread destruction of the sites than has occurred at Palmyra.

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