Islamic State ‘laid mines’ around Palmyra ruins

Antiquities official says 80 per cent of historic sites in ancient city appear to be intact

Syrian forces begin to sweep for landmines across the town of Palmyra after taking back control of the historic city from Islamic State militants who seized it last year and dynamited its ancient temples. Video: Reuters

 

The Syrian forces that recaptured the historic city of Palmyra from Islamic State have encountered dozens of mines that the expelled militants laid as booby traps around treasured ancient ruins sites, Syria’s state media said.

Accounts of the Palmyra victory published by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana) also reported that Russia’s military, which has helped the Syrian forces regain momentum against insurgents with a six-month bombing campaign, was sending 100 mine clearance engineers and trainers of bomb-sniffing dogs to help rid Palmyra of the mines planted by Isis.

The expulsion of Isis from Palmyra, the ancient “Bride of the Desert” oasis seized by the militant extremist group 10 months ago, is regarded as a turn in the five-year-old war and an enormous propaganda victory for president Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Russians.

The Palmyra news also has left the US and other Western and Arab opponents of Mr Assad in the awkward position of welcoming it while still insisting the Syrian president’s autocracy and suppression of dissent was the underlying cause of the Syria war.

Detractors

France, one of Mr Assad’s most outspoken detractors, was the latest to react to the recapture of Palmyra. “The advances against Daesh today cannot erase the fact that the regime bears the main responsibility for the conflict and its 270,000 dead over the past five years,” a spokesman for France’s foreign ministry, Romain Nadal, told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.

It is unclear how the Palmyra victory by Mr Assad’s forces might affect the diplomacy underway to establish peace negotiations. It came after US secretary of state John Kerry met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, and president Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week to discuss Syria and the preservation of a partial cease-fire that has taken hold in some areas.

The United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is hoping to convene talks on April 9th in Geneva.

Photographs and video images of Palmyra taken by the Syrian forces showed some severe damage to parts of the 2,000-year-old ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site, including decapitated statues and busts with smashed faces. But Syria’s top antiquities official, Maamoun Abdulkarim, has said 80 per cent of the ruins appeared to remain intact.

New York Times