Syria’s Palmyra can be restored ‘in five years’

Syria’s Palmyra can be restored ‘in five years’

Syria’s Palmyra can be restored ‘in five years’

A general view taken on March 27, 2016 shows part of the remains of the Arc de Triomph (Triumph Arc) monument that was destroyed by ISIL in October 2015 in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, after government troops recaptured the UNESCO world heritage site from ISIL. AFP Photo

Syria’s antiquities chief said on March 28 that his department would need five years to restore the ancient ruins of Palmyra damaged by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes battled ISIL around Palmyra, trying to extend their gains.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, said that his department would need five years to restore the ancient ruins of Palmyra damaged by ISIL.

“If we have UNESCO’s approval, we will need five years to restore the structures damaged or destroyed by IS [ISIL],” Abdulkarim told AFP.

“We have the qualified staff, the knowledge and the research. With UNESCO’s approval, we can start the work in a year’s time.” 

Abdulkarim’s remarks came after the Russian-backed Syrian army ousted ISIL from Palmyra on March 27 in the climax of a three-week offensive.

“Eighty percent of the ruins are in good shape,” he said.

“My expert colleagues arrive today in Palmyra. I have asked them to assess the stones and the old city. They are taking pictures of the damage and documenting everything, and then the restoration can begin.” 

ISIL overran Palmyra in May last year, sparking global concern for the city’s spectacular ancient ruins.

The jihadists used Palmyra’s ancient theatre as a venue for public executions and also murdered the city’s 82-year-old former antiquities chief, Khaled al-Assaad.

During its 10-month occupation, IS destroyed the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel and shrine of Baal Shamin, a dozen of the city’s best-preserved tower tombs and the Arch of Triumph dating from around 200 AD.

Meanwhile, Annie Sartre-Fauriat, who belongs to a group of experts on Syrian heritage set up by UNESCO in 2013, said March 28 she was “very doubtful” the destruction caused to Palmyra’s ancient monuments can be repaired.

“Everyone is excited because Palmyra has been ‘liberated’, but we should not forget everything that has been destroyed,” said Sartre-Fauriat.  

“I am very doubtful about the capacity, even with international aid, of rebuilding the site at Palmyra,” she told AFP.

“When I hear that we are going to reconstruct the temple of Bel, that seems illusory. We are not going to rebuild something that has been reduced to dust. Rebuild what? A new temple? I think there are probably other priorities in Syria before rebuilding ruins.” 

The Syrian army said the city, home to some of the most extensive ruins of the Roman Empire, would become a “launchpad” for operations against ISIL strongholds in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, further east across a vast expanse of desert. 

Syrian state media said on March 28 that Palmyra’s military airport was now open to air traffic after the army cleared the surrounding area of ISIL fighters.