Palmyra: Treasures of the Middle East destroyed by terrorism

Palmyra is an ancient Semitic city in present-day Homs, Syria. Archaeological findings date back to the Neolithic period. The city contains some of the most precious archeological sites in the region such as the Great Colonnade, the Temple of Bel, as well as many other monuments and treasures.

The ruins were part of a desert oasis that was one of the most significant cultural centres of the ancient world, linking the civilisations of Persia, India, China with the Roman Empire through trade. These monuments have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980.

On the 13th-26th May 2015, ISIS militants launched a military campaign to take the Tadmur district from the Syrian Regime, and with it the ancient city. The offensive was one of the largest offensives launched by the group. What followed was a systematic destruction of some of the most important monuments belonging to the city. According to eyewitnesses, on 23rd May 2015 the militants destroyed the Lion of Al-lāt and other statues.

The group went on to destroy the Temple of Baalshamin, the Temple of Bel as well as many of the famous tower tombs. ISIS uses a unit called the Kata’ib Taswiyya (settlement battalions) to select targets for demolition. Additionally, valuable items from some buildings were looted in order to smuggle and sell them to finance ISIL activities.

During the offensive, ISIS conducted numerous executions. On the 14th May, ISIL executed 26 civilians in Amiriya and al-Sukhnah for “dealing with the regime”, of whom 10 were beheaded. The following day, another 23 civilians were executed in Amiriya, nine of them children. Some estimates claim that the group executed between 150 and up to 280 government loyalists and soldiers in the streets and in the public square by a shot-to-the-head or beheading.

The executions were part of a purge which ISIS initiated, after capturing Palmyra, where the jihadists were conducting door-to-door searches to find and kill all government supporters or fugitive soldiers.