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Freed from ISIS, Palmyra’s treasured ruins ‘have blood on them’

The Syrian Army has reclaimed Palmyra from the Islamic State group, dealing a major setback to the militants. Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports on the state of the ancient city, home to a sprawling set of Roman ruins that were partially destroyed by fighting and by the militants as propaganda.

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    The Syrian army captured the city of Palmyra this week, reclaiming it from ISIS, whose militants took over the city last year.

    Its loss is a major setback to the Islamic State. Palmyra is also home to a sprawling set of ancient Roman ruins, some of which ISIS destroyed during its occupation.

    Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News visited the site today.


    Palmyra's Triumphal Arch may have been demolished by the Islamic State, but triumph is exactly what Syrian soldiers feel.

    The officers know the symbolism of stones.

    "A people without a past," he says, "is a people without a future."

    No one knew the propaganda value of Palmyra better than I.S. They left the Roman amphitheater intact because it made a dramatic backdrop for their videos of horror.

    Imagine, just last year, local men were forced to come and sit here and watch an extraordinary spectacle, as 25 teenage jihadis came onto this ancient stage, with them, 25 Syrian soldiers, who they murdered. A group of Russian officers arrived, but they're camera-shy, even though it's their bombing that may have saved Palmyra.

    Towering above the sight looms a medieval citadel. This damage was caused by months of mortars and government bombardment. But it was only in the last few weeks, when Russian aircraft took to the skies with Iranian and Hezbollah fighters on the ground, that the Syrian army could prevail over the jihadis.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    There were many explosives and mines, and the heaviest battles were with terrorists around the castle. They had all kinds of weapons. And as soon as we appeared, they fired everything at us. We killed many of them.


    Before fleeing, I.S. militants rigged the streets of the modern town adjacent to the site with explosive devices and mines.

    The beauty of Palmyra is stunning. Syrian archaeologists say they can rehabilitate the site in five years if they get the money and if there can be peace. The current calm is more fragile than carving on stones.

    This is what the sacred sanctuary of the Temple of Bel used to look like. Tens of thousands of tourists flocked here to see it, and this is what it looks like now. The stones are shattered and some archaeologists think it wouldn't only be futile, but wrong to try and rebuild exactly how it was.

  • JOANNE FARCHAKH, Archaeologist:

    Four hundred people have been killed inside the Roman theater. People will not look at this site again as it was before. It's — now it's a place where blood was shed. The ruins have blood on them and it's modern blood. It's not old blood. Can we treat it the same way, as if this never happened before?


    The battle for Palmyra has not only changed the course of this modern war, but changed forever this precious ancient site.

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