Key Monuments Lost Forever

PALMYRA, SYRIA.- The destruction caused to Palmyra's ancient monuments during IS (Islamic State) occupation is irreversible to some of the key monuments, a Syrian archaeological expert for the UN's cultural body said on Monday.

Annie Sartre-Fauriat's latest assessment contrasts with the more upbeat view of Syria's head of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, who said on Monday that 80 percent of the city's ruins were in "good shape" and would need five years to restore.

"As long as the Syrian army is there, I am not reassured," said Sartre-Fauriat, who belongs to a group of experts on Syrian heritage set up by UNESCO in 2013.

"We should not forget that the army occupied the site between 2012 and 2015 and caused a lot of their own destruction and pillaging.

"Everyone is excited because Palmyra has been 'liberated', but we should not forget everything that has been destroyed," said Sartre-Fauriat. "I am very doubtful about the capacity, even with international aid, of rebuilding the site at Palmyra,” "When I hear that we are going to reconstruct the temple of Bel, that seems illusory. We are not going to rebuild something that has been reduced to dust. Rebuild what? A new temple? I think there are probably other priorities in Syria before rebuilding ruins.” "It's totally vandalized. Contrary to what we thought, the museum was not emptied of its collection (prior to the arrival of IS) because the antiquities department had only 48 hours to pack everything up and the large monuments could not be transported."

During its 10-month occupation, IS destroyed the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel and shrine of Baal Shamin, a dozen of the city's best-preserved tower tombs and the Arch of Triumph dating from around 200 AD.

The Russian-backed Syrian army ousted IS from Palmyra on Sunday at the climax of a three-week offensive.

"We should not kid ourselves. It's not because Palmyra has been retaken from Daesh (IS) that the war is over. This was a political and media operation designed to win over public opinion for the regime of (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad," she added.