The road leading to the ancient oasis city of Palmyra greets its visitors with four big holes in the ground, caused by four booby-traps the IS terrorists left before leaving the city earlier in the week.
Instead of moving freely and enjoying the beautiful landscape of the city, journalists and those who have visited the city recently walked carefully not to trigger any leftovers of the IS bombs.
The regular visitor, and those who are less interested in archeological sites, cannot immediately figure out what has changed in the city after 10 months of the IS control and the bombing this group did without looking at previous pictures of that ancient city.
Standing with tears in her eyes, an archeology expert said it’s extremely difficult to rebuild what has changed in the city, when a soldier asked her about the possibility of rebuilding the Temple of Bel.
“They have blown up the core of the temple. It’s very difficult to rebuild it,” she said.
Temple of Bel, which was dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Bel, who was worshipped at Palmyra in triad with the lunar god Aglibol and the sun god Yarhibol, formed the center of religious life in Palmyra and was inaugurated in 32 AD.
Now, there is nothing left of the temple except its gate, standing still to tell the generations that there was a temple called Bel in the place.
Aside from Bal, another temple in Palmyra, Baalshamin, was totally destroyed, nothing left of it.
Baalshamin, whose earliest phase dates to the late 2nd century, was one of the most complete ancient structures in Palmyra. In 1980, the UNESCO designated the temple as a World Heritage Site.
The IS destroyed Baalshamin on Aug. 23, 2015.
On May 23, 2015, the militants IS militants partially destroyed the Lion of al-Lat and other statues.
It became known on Sept. 4, 2015 that IS had destroyed three of the best preserved tower tombs including the Tower of Elahbel.
On Oct. 5, 2015, news media reported IS destroyed the Arch of Triumph.
Those were the hard-hit areas in Palmyra, but there are other areas, including the Roman amphitheater, which escaped the IS rule unscathed.
The theater, which IS used in its infamous massacre of Syrian solider, is still standing still, with Russian bomb squads patrolling it every now and then for further checks.
Last year, the IS released a video of a mass slaughter of regime soldiers in that amphitheater, showing condemned soldiers lined up on their knees on the stage, while their child executioners with pistols in hands standing behind them.
The IS’ giant flag was hung on the center stage of that ancient monument, while a baying crown of people were gathered in the amphitheater to watch the executions.
Speaking of the people, upon a trip of Xinhua reporters to the city, it seemed like a ghost town.
No one was there, neither in the ancient city nor in the residential part of the city, save for the Syrian and Shiite fighters, as well as Russian experts.
A soldier told Xinhua that when the Syrian army recaptured the city he entered the residential area in Palmyra in search of civilians.
“I was roaming the residential city in search of any civilians when the army fully recaptured Palmyra but for no avail. No one was there. The doors were left opened, as if the residents were forced to leave their homes, not voluntarily,” he said.
Looking from the city from above, specifically from the ancient citadel of Palmyra, which is situated on a mountain overlooking both parts of the city, plums of dark smoke were still rising, in what appeared to be the army dismantling and blowing up explosive devices.
Malek Saleh, chief of the reconnaissance division in Palmyra, told Xinhua that the reclaiming of Palmyra is a great achievement of the Syrian army and allied forces.
“The victory’s euphoria that we have felt when entering the city was unmatched,” he said, speaking of his feeling along with the soldiers who were with him.
“Palmyra lies in the heart of the Syrian Desert and that gives it its significance,” he said, noting that it’s easier now to haunt down the IS to their key strongholds in the northern province of al-Raqqa and the eastern province of Deir al-Zour,” the officer said.
One of the big rocks of the blown up Temple of Bel, a Syrian soldier was sitting looking at the destruction seen.
“We have felt extremely happy after we reached the ancient city. True that it’s only ancient rocks and desert, but it’s a part of my country’s history and heritage,” he said.
“Everything can be fixed,” he added.
Such optimism was shared with archeology officials in Damascus.
In a recent interview, Maamoun Abdul-Karim, the head of the antiquities department in Damascus, told Xinhua that he was in direct contact with the UNESCO and other concerned international organizations for the restoration process in Palmyra.
“We will immediately start the restoration process and will assess the damages directly from the site,” he added.
Also, Ahmad Deeb, director of museums affairs, told Xinhua that the proper assessment couldn’t be immediately done in Palmyra, which was recaptured by the Syrian army earlier this week, due to the number of booby-traps the IS group had planted before withdrawing from the city.
“We have formed teams of experts to head to Palmyra once we have got the permission to enter the city after all of the booby-traps are dismantled,” he said.
Deeb noted that the antiquities department in Syria had anticipated the IS infiltration of the city last May, removing the most valuable and moveable pieces out of the city into safe places.
“Before the terrorists of Daesh (IS in Arabic) entered the city, the antiquities department had moved large quantities of the important antiquities out of Palmyra into safe places. Hundreds of pieces that had been moved out from Palmyra will be returned into that ancient city when the situation gets completely safe,” he added.
Deeb’s information collaborated with what Xinhua reporters have seen in the museum of Palmyra, which was nearly empty of artifacts, save for some statues that were defaced and decapitated by the IS militants, who seem not only interested in beheading people, but everything that runs counter to their ideology. Enditem