Palmyra, the storied ancient city that was among prewar Syria’s leading tourist attractions, swung back under government control on Thursday, state media reported, as soldiers and their allies evicted Islamic State militants who had made a sport out of pilfering the city’s antiquities.
This was the fourth time in the past two years that control of Palmyra, a Unesco World Heritage Site, changed hands between government forces and Islamic State fighters, who vandalized the city’s historic sites and used its famed Roman stone amphitheater for public executions.
Palmyra is particularly valuable to the Islamic State because the group regards the city’s artifacts as sacrilegious symbols. Control of the city gave Islamic State leaders a grand propaganda stage on which to destroy and kill.
Islamic State propagandists considered Palmyra a bonanza for promoting their vision of a strictly religious caliphate devoid of homage to other cultures or religions. They publicized the work of their demolition teams with graphic photographs.
But Palmyra, which attracted many thousands of tourists annually until the Syrian conflict started in March 2011, began to suffer war-related damage well before the Islamic State arrived in 2015. A visit in 2014, after three years of war, revealed scars from mortar shells and pockmarks from bullets, as well as illegal digging at ancient tombs.
In Geneva, where the United Nations is attempting to hold negotiations to halt the war, Syrian opposition representatives dismissed the recapture of Palmyra by Mr. Assad’s side and suggested that Islamic State militants could seize the site again. Nasr al-Hariri, the main opposition negotiator, was quoted by news agencies as saying that observing the seesaw battle was “like watching Tom and Jerry.”
Read more: The New York Times.