The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 attacked the historic desert city of Palmyra located in central Syria and were in full control of the city by evening hours.
Palmyra is noted as one of the world’s most magnificent remenants of antiquity, as well as the grimmer modern landmark of Tadmur Prison, where Syrian dissidents have languished over the decades.
The City holds about 50,000 people as its official residents.
For the ISIS fighters, the city is very significant and strategic because it sits amongst gas fields and astride a network of roads across the country’s central desert.
The Islamic militants while they were taking over the city damaged numerous ancient sites and sculptures, condemning them as idolatry in the in slickly produced recruitment films, even as they pillage and sell off more portable items to finance their activities.
The capture of Palmyra is the first time the al Qaeda offshoot has taken control of a city directly from the Syrian army and allied forces, which have already lost ground in the North-west and South to other insurgent groups in recent weeks.
The central city, also known as Tadmur, is built alongside the remains of a oasis civilization whose colonnaded streets, temple and theatre have stood for 2,000 years.
Syria’s antiquities chief called on the world to save its ancient monuments and state television said Islamic State fighters were trying to enter the city’s historical sites.
Palmyra is also a strategic military gain, home to modern army installations and situated on a desert highway linking the capital Damascus with Syria’s eastern provinces, mostly under insurgent control.
“Praise God, it has been liberated,” said an Islamic State fighter speaking via the Internet from the Palmyra area. He said Islamic State was in control of a hospital in the city which Syrian forces had used as a base before withdrawing.
Palmyra occupies a prominent place in Middle Eastern history. From modest beginnings in the 1st Century BC, the city gradually rose to prominence under the aegis of Rome until, during the 3rd Century AD, the city’s rulers challenged Roman power and created an empire of their own that stretched from Turkey to Egypt.
Palmyra was a great Middle Eastern achievement, and was unlike any other city of the Roman Empire. Like Venice, the city formed the hub of a vast trade network, only with the desert as its sea and camels as its ships.
Only small parts of the site have been excavated. Most of the archaeology lies just beneath the surface rather than deeply buried, and it is particularly vulnerable to looting.
If the city is destroyed by ISIS, a major chapter in Middle Eastern history and culture will be yet another casualty of this tragic conflict.
See photos from the city below: