Assad regime air strikes on Tadmur have continued and intensified and caused many (more) civilian casualties. Meanwhile, a Facebook page for Palmyra News Updates has shared unverified evidence of the Islamic State’s preparation to blow up the Temple of Bel on Sunday or Monday (today or tomorrow).
It is apparently the last Facebook page with information from inside Palmyra. The other two that had remained until yesterday have been shut down by the Islamic State. “Ceftali” fears that this threat is their ‘retaliation‘: ‘this is their blackmail, and their revenge’. The evidence-gatherer also took a location photo, which appears to be new and to confirm that were at the nearby Temple of Baal-Shamin, so they were in Palmyra. But I cannot verify what is in the bottles unless it is used.
Regardless, the destruction of Palmyra should not be a “red line” for military intervention, as advocated by Juliette Hage, the Chief of Country Operations Division for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Arab States, and Mamoun Abdulkarim, the Director-General of Antiquities and Museums in regime territory, when the Islamic State conquered the territory, and then and now by others.
If the Assad regime’s barrel-bombing and chlorine-gassing of civilian centres (which are also historic cities) are not red lines, if the Islamic State’s massacres of its subjects are not red lines, if neither the Assad regime’s nor the Islamic State’s butchery in the neighbouring civilian town of Tadmur is a red line, how can the destruction of ancient ruins in Palmyra be so? And even if we don’t care about the moral choices, don’t we care about the strategic consequences?
Mining of the Roman theatre (Update, 21st June 2015)
Further reports are corroborating the Islamic State’s preparations for blowing up – or to be able to blow up – the Temple of Bel, which were first reported in Palmyra News Updates. The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, tod Reuters that the Islamic State ‘also planted some [TNT bombs] around the Roman theater‘.
Rather than simply destroying the buildings for propaganda, it may be using the bombs as mines ‘to deter government forces from advancing towards the city’. As Paul Barford notes, that would force combat into the open areas around the ruins, and that would perversely provide the UNESCO World Heritage site with more protection than it has been afforded by the Assad regime.
Location photo at the Temple of Baal-Shamin
Comparison photo of the Temple of Baal-Shamin