BEIRUT, Lebanon — Another landmark structure in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra has been deliberately destroyed by Islamic State militants, according to local antigovernment activists and Syrian officials. The building involved this time was a set of triumphal arches, erected in the second century.
Since seizing Palmyra from government forces in May, Islamic State fighters have destroyed some of the most beautiful and historically significant monuments in the sprawling oasis city in Syria’s central desert, one of the world’s most renowned archaeological sites.
The latest to fall was the triple arch built by the Romans to celebrate a victory over the Persians, which bore ancient inscriptions and stood at the entrance to a grand colonnade.
Militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, had already blown up the temples of Baalshamin and of Baal, in keeping with their stated belief that such structures are idolatrous. But the arch was not a religious structure.
Graphic | The Strategy Behind the Islamic State’s Destruction of Ancient Sites As it expanded across Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State destroyed many archaeological sites, looting them for profit and damaging some for propaganda.
Its destruction was first reported on Sunday by an antigovernment activist who uses the nom de guerre Khaled al-Homsi and who has long monitored the destruction of antiquities in Palmyra by all parties in the multisided war. Mr. Homsi fled Palmyra after the Islamic State takeover, in which his uncle Khalid al-Asaad, a former antiquities official, was killed by the group.
Residents of Palmyra have also suffered under intensified bombardment by government warplanes over the past month, some of which did their own damage to the archaeological site, Mr. Homsi and others said.
The Palmyra branch of the Local Coordination Committees — antigovernment activist cells set up early in the uprising that now primarily serve to document events around Syria — recently issued an infographic showing the toll from all sides for September alone.
It said that there were 222 air raids, using rockets as well as naval mines, gas cylinders and barrel bombs, that killed 97 people and destroyed 239 houses and three ancient structures.
The government says it is aiming at terrorists.
Residents who can afford transportation are fleeing the attacks by the government and by the Islamic State, while those who cannot are cowering in basements under heavy government airstrikes, according to a Syrian from Palmyra who took refuge in Turkey but remains in regular contact with relatives there. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect family members still in Syria.
But flight is no guarantee of safety, the person from Palmyra added, corroborating accounts from other residents.
Residents may be stopped on the road to government-held territory, they say, under suspicion of ties to the Islamic State or simply because government forces do not want more displaced people from restive Sunni areas moving west to areas like the provinces of Latakia and Tartus, which are already bursting with them.
They can flee in the other direction, to Islamic State-held Raqqa, but there they still face the harsh rule of the militant group, as well as airstrikes by the United States-led coalition, the government and now also Russia.
Some are going all the way to Turkey, potentially joining the flow of refugees from there to Europe, while others remain displaced in outlying areas around the city.
On Monday, Palmyra residents and activists circulated images. One was a vintage photograph of the site with a man in traditional dress in the foreground; with a black stripe across the corner like a funeral ribbon.
Another was from 2011, months into the Syrian uprising, when peaceful protests were still common. It shows protesters calling for the ouster of Mr. Assad, with a sign that seems to allude to the city’s role in history: “Here are the free men of Palmyra, renewing and rewriting history once again.”
Mr. Homsi posted an elegy on Facebook:
So long to you, whose columns embraced the blood and memories of the best of my motherland’s martyrs / So long, stones / So long, history, so long, civilization.
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(via NY Times)