International conflict over Palmyra’s restoration

The amount of destruction found inside the archaeological area in the historic town was similar to what experts have expected but the shock came Monday from inside the local museum where the extremists have caused wide damage demolishing invaluable statues that were torn to pieces. (SANA via AP)

The amount of destruction found inside the archaeological area in the historic town was similar to what experts have expected but the shock came Monday from inside the local museum where the extremists have caused wide damage demolishing invaluable statues that were torn to pieces. (SANA via AP)

UN’s cultural body and experts said they’re very doubtful the destruction caused to Palmyra’s ancient monuments during its occupation by the Islamic State group can be repaired. These statements come after Russia annoucning their retreat.

“Everyone is excited because Palmyra has been ‘liberated’, but we should not forget everything that has been destroyed,” said Annie Sartre-Fauriat, who belongs to a group of experts on Syrian heritage set up by UNESCO in 2013.

“I am very doubtful about the capacity, even with international aid, of rebuilding the site at Palmyra. When I hear that we are going to reconstruct the temple of Bel, that seems illusory. We are not going to rebuild something that has been reduced to dust. Rebuild what? A new temple? I think there are probably other priorities in Syria before rebuilding ruins.”

IS destroyed the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel and shrine of Baal Shamin, a dozen of the city’s best-preserved tower tombs and the Arch of Triumph dating from around 200 AD. The UN statements contrast with Syria’s head of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, who said that 80 percent of the city’s ruins were in “good shape” and would need five years to restore.

“As long as the Syrian army is there, I am not reassured,” said Sartre-Fauriat. “We should not forget that the army occupied the site between 2012 and 2015 and caused a lot of destruction and pillaging.

“We should not kid ourselves. It’s not because Palmyra has been retaken from Daesh (IS group) that the war is over. This was a political and media operation designed to win over public opinion for the regime of (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad,” she added.

The historian said she was receiving photos and videos from the scene showing the inside of the Palmyra Museum which was transformed into a court by IS.  According to her, the museum is totally vandalised. The figures on ancient sarcophagi had been smashed and all the statues had been pushed over, decapitated or broken.

Funeral plaques, a special feature of Palmyra, “have been ripped savagely from the walls, probably to be sold by IS,” she added.

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