As the Syrian crisis enters its third year, an end to the violence in the country is nowhere to be seen. The world has become accustomed to rising death tolls and reports of shelling and destruction. However, another threat looms in Syria, and this time it is targeting its cultural heritage.
Palmyra, one of the oldest cities in the country, has been subjected to intermittent shelling by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The ruins of the city, which is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, date back thousands of years. “Bombs and rockets come in all directions,” eyewitnesses said.
Assad forces have struck the Roman Temple of Bel – built in 43 A.C. – and damaged its northern wall, eyewitnesses said, adding portions and stones of the wall have been destroyed.
The Fakhreddine II citadel, Al-Basateen and the Monumental Arch, under which Romans’ Queen Zenobia’s celebrations took place, have also suffered their fair share of destruction.
According to the eyewitnesses, priceless sculptures and statues had been stolen from the ancient city’s museum.
Meanwhile, Palmyra, swarming with tanks, no longer hosts tourists. Its hotels, once full of curious visitors, are now empty only to harbor soldiers on their roofs.
In early March, one of the oldest Synagogues in the worlds was destroyed by regime forces in the Damascus district of Jobar.
Syria’s civil war has caused damage to six World Heritage sites in the country with shelling and open fire between opposition fighters and the regime forces. Numerous historic buildings, archaeological sites and residential areas are being left in ruins.
On 30 March 2012, UNESCO called for the protection of Syria’s cultural heritage sites and expressed “grave concern about possible damage to precious sites.”