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May 25, 2017

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Palmyra freed, but Syria heritage still threatened

UNITED NATIONS -- The modern day barbarians have been routed from the ancient city of Palmyra, but the destruction left in the wake of the nearly yearlong Islamic State occupation has been near catastrophic. After five years of conflict, war-torn Syria sees the fruits of limited cease-fires allowing observers to gaze upon a near apocalyptic humanitarian and physical landscape.

That's why the liberation of the ancient city of Palmyra is key; signaling a significant setback for Islamic State (IS), and hopefully now a turning point from wanton destruction to the eventual restoration and preservation of Syria itself.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stated clearly:

"Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences."

Yet UNESCO's Director Irina Bukova warned, "The deliberate destruction of heritage is a war crime, and UNESCO will do everything in its power to document the damage so that these crimes do not go unpunished."

After IS captured Palmyra, it turned to destroying archaeological sites such as two 2,000-year-old temples, the Arch, and turning the Roman amphitheater into an execution ground. IS claims such pre-Islamic structures are idolatrous and should be smashed and sacked.

Following the occupation, Maamoun Abdulkarim, the Syrian antiquities director, advised 80 percent of the UNESCO World Heritage site nonetheless remains intact.

Beyond its hateful political ideology, IS has spread a noxious anti-cultural logic that it must destroy the legacy of pre-Islamic civilization. Thus when IS seized Mosul in Iraq, it trashed the famed Museum and later sent its demolition teams to blast the storied ruins of Iraqi civilization. And the same in Syria. Blasting, bulldozing and looting art treasures from the past and in some cases allowing more portable objects to enter the global antiquities black markets.

Such damage is not unique. In Afghanistan in the spring of 2001, the Taliban's Islamic extremists targeted age-old Buddhist statues in Bamiyan. The world watched in horror but did nothing as the Taliban thugs blasted statues dating from the 7th century A.D. into oblivion.

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