Contemplating a raft full of offers, entreaties, fatwas and perhaps partnering with Israel"
This past week has been an emotional roller-coaster for all of us who value our shared global cultural heritage in Syria as contradictory news reaches us from Palmyra (Tadmur), the Syrian "Venice of the Sands" UNESCO World Heritage site. It is among the great cities of antiquity perhaps comparable only to Petra in Jordan, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the Athenian Acropolis in Greece. Just 130 miles northeast of Damascus, the area is now under the control of the reportedly sometimes hallucinogenic-drugs fueled whims of jihadists, mainly Da'ish and its allies.
Receiving reliable information about events at Palmyra is one problem. The best continuing source, which the world's media and concerned archeologists alike go to for updates, continues to be Syria's Dr. Maamoun Abdel-Karim given his contacts with colleagues in or near Palmyra and the surrounding Homs Governorate. Some actually worked in the Palmyra Museum or elsewhere in Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), which Dr. Abdel-Karim heads. Another reliable source is Syria's charismatic Minister of Tourism, Eng. Besher Yazji who, along with his staff works tirelessly on the subject of preserving all of Syria's preeminent tourist destinations. Many in the local population of Palmyra, despite the arrival of Da;ish (ISIS), is watching and in some instances 'guarding' the irreplaceable sites with some engaging with the jihadists trying to convince them that Palmyra is about Syria and their own cultural heritage and not idolatry, insults to Islam or anything that the Koran of Mohammad the Prophet would sanction for destruction.
Simultaneously, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, the leader of Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front--sometimes the foe or ally of Da'ish-in a kind of good cop-back cop tactic-- depending on what suits both at any particular time or place- has tol.d Al Jazeera (5/28/2015) that his alliance would neither launch attacks on the West or destroy Syrian cultural heritage sites and would protect minorities.
In addition, an anti-government FM radio broadcast an audio interview purporting to be with Abu Laith al-Saoudy, the nom de guerre of the Da'ish military commander in Palmyra, who pledged not to damage the site but said the group would destroy only offending statues. Abu Laith reportedly announced: "Concerning the historic city, we will preserve it and it will not be harmed, God willing. What we will do is break the idols that the infidels used to worship. The historic buildings will not be touched and we will not bring bulldozers to destroy them like some people think."