The capture of the desert town of Palmyra by Daesh (Islamic State) is notable for two reasons. The headlines are being made by the threat to world renowned treasures of the ancient site, but the area is also of strategic importance in the wars in Syria and Iraq.
Syrian government forces in the province of Deir el-Zour, above Palmyra, are now almost surrounded and cut off from resupply. They include the 104th Republican Brigade, one of President Assad’s’ best units and they will be hard pushed to defend the remaining government strongholds in the area.
Palmyra, which is in Homs province, sits in the center of Syria and is the crossroads for a network of roads. It now provides a base for Daesh to mount other attacks, consolidating their hold, and ensuring they have clear lines of supply all the way through to the parts of Iraq they control. In response the Assad government will need to divert resources to defend the route southwards from Palmyra towards the capital Damascus, or even attempt to retake the town.
Area. Just under 1 acre.
Name. Palmyra from the Roman City of Palms. Originally Tadmor from the semitic words for dates. Mentioned in the Bible. In the modern era -sometimes called Venice of the Sands.
Founded. 2nd Millenium BCE.
Flourished during the Roman era as a major stop off point on the silk road between the Mediterranean and India/China.
Abandoned. 1932 CE after the French occupiers moved people in what was by then a village to the new town of Tadmur.
Excavation. From 1932.
Treasures include the Temple of Baal.
Previous targets for destruction by Daesh –
Jonah’s tomb. Said to be the burial place of the biblical prophet Jonah.
Mosul Museum. Daesh video showed fighters smashing Assyrian statues.
Mosul Library. Thousands of ancient and rare books burnt – library destroyed.
Ancient city of Nimrud. Bulldozed. Frescos, texts, artifacts destroyed.
Khorsabad Palace. Built by the Assyrian King Sargon II between 717 and 706 BCE. Destroyed by Daesh – March, 2015.