IS Captures UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra in SyriaWorld | May 21, 2015, Thursday // 14:04| views
An undated handout picture made available on 17 May 2015, by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows the ancient oasis city of Palmyra,about 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. Photo: EPA
Islamic State (IS) captured the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra after gaining control of the town next to the ruins of the ancient city in Syria.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, no artefacts were destroyed so far, the BBC reports.
The radical insurgents had established control of the nearby airport, prison and intelligence headquarters after government forces retreated from the area.
On previous occasions, IS had demolished ancient sites in Iraq, which pre-date Islam and a similar fate might befell Palmyra as government forces retreated.
The ancient ruins are situated on the road between Damascus and the city of Deir al-Zour, which is a strategically important area.
Palmyra is also in proximity to oil and gas fields, which are used by the Syrian government to generate electricity in the areas under its control in the west of the country.
Syrian forces pulled out of Tadmur, the modern town next to Palmyra after they had evacuated most of its inhabitants.
Only small parts of the archaeological site have been excavated and most of the ancient city lies just beneath the surface.
Syrian head of antiquities Maamoun Abdul Karim said on Wednesday that hundreds of statues have been moved to a safer place, but larger monuments remained on the site.
He called on the coalition led by the USA to prevent IS from destroying the ancient site and described this as the battle of the entire world.
Palmyra features the monumental ruins of a great city, which was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.
Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova expressed deep concern of the situation as the fighting was threatening one of the most important sites in the Middle East and its civilian population.
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