March 4, 2017
Syrian army units have begun clearing land mines and explosives left behind by Isil militants in the historic town of Palmyra, after government troops and allied militiamen recaptured it from the jihadists.
The military expects the process to be long and difficult due to the large number of mines planted by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant before they retreated.
Syrian troops, backed by Russian and Lebanese Hizbullah fighters, fully recaptured Palmyra on Thursday after a push that saw the militants’ defences crumble.
It is the third time the Syrian town — famed for its priceless Roman ruins and archaeological treasures — has changed hands in one year. The Syrian government seized the town from the militants last March, only to lose it again 10 months later.
Last spring, it took Russian de-mining experts weeks to clear the town from hundreds of mines planted by Isil.
Since capturing the town again in December, Isil fighters wrought fresh damage on the ruins. Pictures released on Friday show new damage to the Unesco listed citadel, which appears to have collapsed on one side.
They also dynamited the front of the Roman amphitheatre as well as the famous 16-column Tetrapylon.
Speaking to The Telegraph earlier this week, Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities minister, said he was devastated by the new damage but thankful most of the structures were largely in tact and still standing.
“We must work now to preserve what is left,” he said. “This isn’t just the government’s heritage, but the opposition’s and the world’s.”
Mr Abdulkarim said he would visit the area soon for a better assessment, but added: “At least there is some sense of tranquility after we received the initial photos. The general situation is reassuring.”
Some of the damage could be repaired, he said. “Except for the previous destruction, the state of the theatre looks good,” he said. “Even that destroyed section could be repaired. It had already been restored, and it will be again.”