The South Asian Times

18 September 2019 01:27 AM

IS inching into iconic ancient city in Syria, warns official


Damascus, May 16: A Syrian official has called on the international community to work on finding solutions to stop the "barbaric" attack by the Islamic State (IS) militants on the ancient city of Palmyra, warning of a catastrophe if the terror group succeeded in grabbing it.

"We have called for international solidarity in face of the barbaric campaign led by the terrorist legions of IS who are attacking Palmyra," Mamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's director-general of antiquities and museums, told Xinhua news agency on Friday.

The comments were made even as the Syrian army units were engaged in battles against the IS at the outskirts of this millennia-old oasis city in the eastern countryside of the central province of Homs.

The battles at the eastern and southern rims of Palmyra continued on Friday, Syrian media reported.

"Their threats to enter the city means the threat of a catastrophe as it happened in northern Iraq and there was an international inaction toward destroying the ancient cities there," Abdulkarim said, referring to the destruction of ancient northern Iraqi cities by IS militants.

The Syrian official urged the international community to take action so that what happened in Iraq's ancient cities would not be repeated in Palmyra.

Abdulkarim said the IS militants were only a few kilometres from Palmyra, noting that the Syrian army was confronting them and preventing them from inching closer.

"The international community should realise that the army units are defending a civilisation... all of the international community must search for solutions to put a limit to the barbaric actions of the IS and to stop them from destroying the civilisations in Iraq and Syria," he added.

"I think it would be an international loss if they managed to storm the city," the official warned.

On Thursday, Unesco expressed deep concern over fighting near Palmyra that is endangering the nearby population and posing an imminent threat to the iconic ruins, calling out to all parties "to make every effort to prevent its destruction".

"The site has already suffered four years of conflict, it suffered from looting and represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and for the world," Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova said.

"I appeal to all parties to protect Palmyra and make every effort to prevent its destruction," he said.

Unesco said Palmyra is considered one of the most important cultural sites in the Middle East.

Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.

From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilisations, married Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences, according to Unesco.

Syria has many prehistoric, Greek, Byzantine and Islamic heritages. Before the crisis, Syria had attracted many multinational archaeological missions coming to search for new clues to historical facts on the development of civilisations.

Unesco has listed six Syrian sites on the World Heritage List, including the old cities of Damascus and Aleppo, al-Madhiq castle, the Krak des Chevaliers, the ancient city of Bosra and Palmyra and the ancient villages in northern Syria.

Update: 16 May, 2015