Syria'south Palmyra: Ghost Town Bearing Scars of IS Destruction

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Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 9:05 PM

An Associated Press crew visiting the town Friday witnessed firsthand the destruction inflicted by the extremist grouping on the town'south famed archaeological site, less than a mi far from the modern-day town of the same name, presently totally deserted.

Explosions rocked the ancient town of Palmyra on Friday and on the horizon, black smoke wafted behind its majestic Roman ruins, as Syrian army experts carefully detonated hundreds of mines they declare were planted by Islamic State militants before they fled the town.

An Associated Press crew visiting the town Friday witnessed firsthand the destruction inflicted by the extremist grouping on the town'south famed archaeological site, less than a mi far from the modern-day town of the same name, presently totally deserted.

While some parts of the site, including the Roman-era grand colonnades and amphitheater appeared relatively untouched, the damage was very much visible elsewhere.

The remarkable Arch of Triumph, built below the Roman emperor Septimius Severus between A. D. one hundred ninety-three and A. D. two hundred eleven, has been reduced to a pile of stones, blown up by IS extremists who filmed the destruction for the world to see. The monumental arch once sat atop the famed colonnaded streets of the ancient town.

The Temple of Baalshamin and parts of the Temple of Bel, one of the best-preserved Roman-era sites, are also destroyed.

Apart from the Roman ruins themselves, heavy damage could be seen on parts of the walls of Palmyra'south towering Mamluk-era citadel, built during the Islamic conquest in the thirteenth century. On top of the scarred citadel, a Syrian flag flies in the wind.

Palmyra is located about two hundred forty-eight kilometers (one hundred fifty-five miles) E of Damascus, the Syrian capital. Government troops, backed by allied militiamen and Russian airstrikes retook the town on Sun from IS militants who'd controlled Palmyra and its environs for ten months.

Ancient Palmyra is a UNESCO heritage site — an archaeological gem that attracted tens of thousands of tourists every year.

It was completely abandoned on Friday, except for Syrian army soldiers working on dismantling explosives and visiting journalists. The town — about a km far from the ruins — is totally deserted, its remaining residents had fled as the Syrian army'south offensive against IS began a month ago.

Traces of the fighting could be seen all around. Burned cars parked on the side of the road, electricity cables strewn about on the streets, and scattered vacant water tanks apparently used as barricades.

At the entrance to the Roman amphitheater, WHERE'S filmed children shooting captive Syrian soldiers in the head, black graffiti is sprayed on a stone wall.

"Lasting and Expanding," it read in Arabic, a symbol of the Islamic State group. "The Islamic State" is scribbled on another nearby wall.

A Syrian officer told reporters that more than 3.000 mines have so distant been dismantled. "They booby-trapped everything, trees, doors, animals," he said, speaking of the militants. Russian sappers have arrived in Syria to assistance the Syrian army clear mines in and around the town.

The recapture of Palmyra was a strategic coup for President Bashar Assad through which he hopes to convince the W that the Syrian army is a credible partner in combatting terror as it ramps up the fight against the Islamic State.

"The Syrian army is defending Rome and London in as much as it's defending Damascus," another officer told reporters Friday. Both officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to give statements to media crews.

He handed the visiting reporters a booklet he said the militants had apparently distributed to residents of Palmyra.

It reads: "Loyalty to Islam, not to the nation."

———

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

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