Syrian troops in Palmyra have begun the lengthy process of disarming land mines and explosives left behind by Isis after a fierce battle on Thursday (March 2), supported by Russian airstrikes, forced the militants to retreat from the stronghold.
It is expected to be a long and troublesome operation due to the sheer quantity of explosives that have been rigged in the town, which is home to historic Roman ruins that Isis attempted to destroy during its occupation.
The struggle reached its climax on Wednesday (1 March) and carried on overnight after Isis was pushed back by Syrian forces, with the assistance from the Russian military.
It has been reported that the fleeing militants headed to the nearby town of al-Sukhnah, despite air support attempting to pick them off during their escape.
Palmyra, which has been recaptured from the clutches of Isis for the second time in a year, has suffered regular damage to its archaeological assets – with a citadel collapsing on one side and an amphitheatre and a 12-column tetrapylon – a Roman monument – being heavily damaged by dynamite.
Russian mine removal experts dedicated many weeks to ridding the town of explosives after the initial recapture last year, but more have been left scattered after it was lost again in December 2016.
The town, listed as a heritage site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has been heavily damaged but not totally destroyed, a relief expressed by Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim, who called Isis "barbarians".
He told the Telegraph: "I prepared for the eventuality that the barbarians had blown the whole thing up, so there is some small relief that the citadel and the amphitheatre are still standing.
"We must work now to preserve what is left. This isn't just the government's heritage, but the opposition's and the world's."
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