Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The millennium-old oasis city of Palmyra is being damaged in clashes between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels fighting for his overthrow in the midst of the precious archaeological site, a resident said on Wednesday. Shaky amateur footage filmed by the resident shows the facade of the first century Temple of Baal with a large circle where a mortar bomb has blasted the sandstone. The columns of the great colonnade that extends from the temple have been chipped by shrapnel. "The rebels are around the town," said the resident, who asked not to be named for fear of imprisonment. "They hide in the desert, some to the east and some to the west." The groups attack government positions in the town at night, he said.

Hiding in the palm groves behind the ruins, the militants creep towards the ancient site, once a vital stopping point for caravans crossing the Syrian desert carrying spices, silks and perfumes, and the modern town of Tadmur behind it. The government responds with mortar bombs, artillery shells and rockets, the resident said. "For the past two months we have had shelling every night," said the resident, who supports the opposition movement. "The army have positioned themselves in the museum, between the town and the ruins."

Soldiers camp out in the luxury hotels once popular with tourists. The army has also entered the Roman theatre and positioned snipers behind its stone walls, he said. Tadmur's residents took to the streets in March 2011 to call for democratic reforms and an end to the dynastic, four-decade rule of the Assad family. But as in other cities, police and security forces suppressed the uprising, leading to an armed revolt and civil war in which more than 70,000 have been killed and millions displaced around the Middle Eastern state. Large swathes of Syria have fallen into rebel hands but the government has managed to retain control of Palmyra.



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