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March 24, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016 - ,, No comments

Syrian Troops Poised to Recapture Palmyra from Islamic State

 Partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometers (133 miles)
northeast of Damascus, Syria, March 14, 2014. (AFP/Joseph EID)
Throughout the afternoon Wednesday Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes advanced in central Syria seizing high ground within a few kilometres to the west and the south of Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle.  Positioning themselves to recapture Tadmor and the ancient archaeological site, advance detachments of the Syrian government army have allowed news correspondents from Alikhbaria Syria TV to accompany them and film the military's preparations to retake the city over the last two days.

The Triumphal Arch of Palmyra, dynamited by ISL militants
in October 2015. One of a set of stunning albumen prints
produced by FĂ©lix Bonfils between 1867 and 1876.
The governor of Homs province, Talal Barazi, has speculated in the press that the military would recapture Palmyra within two days.  In the afternoon, the government forces managed to fully capture the Semiramis Hotel as well as Mount Muthar and the Mozeh Palace, a once luxurious Qatari-owned villa which ISIL used during the occupation as a staging facility.   
Nestled deep in the Syrian desert, the recapture of Palmyra is seen as a strategic as well as symbolic victory for the Syrian government, as control of the terrain surrounding Palmyra's magnificent 2000 year old ruins would provide government forces with a tactical advantage in the ongoing conflict.  By controlling the areas southwest of Tadmor the SAA would also control large swaths of the surrounding desert extending to the Iraqi border affecting supply lines. 

The government's strategy to retake the city from two sides, vs. a siege approach (encircling the city in order to block reinforcements and the subsequent escape of Da'esh militants) may have been decided upon to avoid urban warfare and to afford some limited protection, if possible, to what remains of the magnificent ruins of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  By giving the Islamic State forces an exit route the Syrian government forces may be attempting to reduce the possibility of desperation-provoked destruction of the archaeological site while forcing the insurgents into unprotected open territory and theoretically away from civilians, though ISIS had been broadcasting in Tadmur for civilians to leave the city, meaning fleeing fighters could be interspersed with fleeing civilians.

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, welcomed the pending liberation of the Palmyra archeological site.  In a statement issued by her office she said the city “carries the memory of the Syrian people, and the values of cultural diversity, tolerance and openness that have made this region a cradle of civilization,"

The Director-General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria Maamoun Abdulkarim expressed his joy Thursday at "the imminent liberation" of the ancient city of Palmyra from the hands of extremists stressing that he will rebuild the temples jihadists had destroyed.

In discussing the last critical days Abdulkarim told reporters  the AFP: "I get a sense of fear and joy at the same time. Of course I am happy with the impending liberation, the dream becomes more and more a reality, and I doubt nightmare to an end, which means that we avoid a complete destruction will be attached to the city's archeological was. "  He further added that "I think that this period of ten months were the worst in our lives.”

On Thursday afternoon, March 24 Syria's Director-General of Antiquities and Museums released the following announcement:

"During the recent few days, the Syrian armed forces has started the battle to restore the city, confirmed information state that the city is being surrounded by both the western and west-southern sides, in preparation to gain control back on the city. 

Upon restoring the city, experts for DGAM will directly plan a field visit for damage assessment, with the collaboration of local and international partners, i.e. UNESCO, ICOMOS, and ICCROM, as the city is enlisted on the World Heritage List.  As previously adopted by DGAM, plans of restoration and rehabilitation should also be prepared consequently in order to open the site back to its residents and visitors as soon as possible. 

We, at DGAM, will do our best to carry a cultural, intellectual, and human message that Palmyreans have always presented to the world, a message of tolerance and multicultural richness, the things that the militants of ISIS hates."

Given the emotional response to the murder of Khaled al-Asaad, a university professor and the former general manager for antiquities and museums at Palmyra, who gave his life in defence of Syria's culture,  it is easy to understand Dr. Abdulkarim's commitment and those of his staff, to securing and conserving the ancient historical site.