Monday, March 28, 2016

Palmyra has been recaptured

PALMYRA WATCH: Syrian Troops Said to Recapture Historic Palmyra From ISIS (HWAIDA SAAD and KAREEM FAHIM, NYT).
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian Army said Sunday that it had fully captured Palmyra, routing Islamic State fighters who had occupied the city with its ancient ruins for almost a year, and handing President Bashar al-Assad a strategic prize. It also gave Mr. Assad something more rare: a measure of international praise.

The head of Unesco, the United Nations agency that had designated Palmyra’s ruins a World Heritage site, hailed the “liberation” of the city from the militants in a statement issued last week as Syrian troops were advancing. On Sunday, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, called the retaking of the ancient city “fortunate” and said the Syrian government could now protect and restore the sites, wire services reported.

Judging from the many news reports this morning, it is clear that Palmyra has indeed been recaptured. I'm not going to follow UNESCO and say "liberated." Recapture by Baathist forces does not count as liberation in my book. (If you're unfamiliar with Baathism, it's a Stalinist Arab-nationalist ideology, one that was also followed by Saddam Hussein.) But — and this speaks for the evil of ISIS rather than the goodness of the Baathists — Palmyra is better off now than it was. And I hope the Russians, whose contribution has been invaluable, also take some responsibility for making sure that both the civilian population and the city's antiquities are well cared for. Regarding the latter:
Antiquities officials feared that several significant monuments had been fully or nearly destroyed, including the Temple of Baalshamin, as well as the Temple of Baal, which served as the modern backdrop for concerts at the Palmyra Music Festival.

The arrival of government troops provided an opportunity to inspect the damage more closely. Mr. Abdulkarim, the antiquities director, said Sunday that he hoped to visit the city within a day or two, after being unable to travel there for two years because of the fighting.

There had been damage to the fence of the city’s medieval citadel, “but it can be fixed,” he said. And some stones at the Temple of Baal are still intact, he said.

“We will try to rebuild it,” he said. “It won’t be like before.”

State television footage from inside the city’s museum showed exhibits knocked over and extensive damage to the building, including a hole in the ceiling that appeared to have been caused by shelling or an airstrike.

In recent hours new photographs of the ruins etc. have been published: Syria civil war: Palmyra damage in pictures (BBC).
New images have emerged from Palmyra, hours after Syrian troops recaptured it from the Islamic State group (IS).
The pictures reveal the extent of destruction wrought by the group during their 10-month occupation of the Unesco World Heritage site.
While some treasured monuments have been destroyed, much of the ancient city's ruins are said to remain intact.
Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said authorities had been "expecting the worst".
But he told the AFP news agency that "the landscape, in general, is in good shape".

The Guardian also has photos and a brief video: Palmyra after Isis: images taken following Syrian recapture offer hope amid ruins. Some parts of the ancient citadel seem to have survived occupation by Islamic State and escaped its desire to destroy important archaeological sites.

Background here and links.