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The Battle to save Palmyra shifts to the UN

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Our Last hope for saving Cultural Heritage in Syria?

The Battle to save Palmyra shifts to the UN

Franklin Lamb

UNESCO HQ, Beirut

The ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) has been in existence for 30 centuries, and is one of the world's most cherished archeological and cultural heritage sites. Will it be cease to exist during the next 30 days?

According to Da'ish (ISIS), the answer is yes and they will see to it. For the reason that religious obligations in their jaded views require the destruction of pre-Islamic pagan idols which they view as akin to devil worship. According to some Syrian government officials and also Irina Bolova, UNESCO's Director of World Heritage Sites List, which List Palmyra has been on since 2013, the answer is also yes-unless. She means unless the UN takes immediate action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and immediately acts, with force if necessary (it is) to save Palmyra.

"The situation is very bad,' Syria's antiquities chief, Dr. Mamoun Abdel-Karim told reporters yesterday. 'If only five members of IS go into the ancient buildings, they'll destroy everything. Our fear is also for the museum and large monuments that cannot be moved. Dr. Abdel-Karim is calling on the US-led military coalition against IS to prevent the group destroying the ancient site. "This is the entire world's battle!" He exclaimed.

And so it is.

On 5/20/2015 museum employees in Palmyra packed up additional items, having over the past three years, along with Syria's other 27 national museums moved thousands of irreplaceable artifacts to secured, climate controlled safety vaults. In a brief telephone conversation, Syria's top antiquities director told Reuters that hundreds of objects from Palmyra were being moved to safety. Dr. Khalil al-Hariri, the Palmyra museum's Director, with whom this observer spent time last year and who provided a detailed briefing at the Palmyra museum and among the ancient ruins, told the NY Times yesterday: "It's very bad today" while a museum employee added, "Pray for us."

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO advised the UN Security Council again two days ago: "I am deeply concerned by the situation at the site of Palmyra. The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East, and its civilian population" she said. "I reiterate my appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities at the site. I further call on the Security Council to do everything in its power to protect the affected civilian population and safeguard the unique cultural heritage of Palmyra."

News of Palmyra's fall came shortly after a State Department official announced that the weekend loss of Ramadi had prompted the U,S take an 'extremely hard look' at its strategy to confront the extremists. This morning, videos are being shown by Da'ish purporting to show smoke rising over Palmyra which ISIS now completely occupies.

Just two months ago, when the Da'ish pulled back from the Iraqi city of Tikrit, the Obama Administration and plenty of others expressed the view that the event was a game changer and Da'ish was skidding toward collapse.

One Da'ish spokesman has just reported to contacts of this observer that ISIS does not urgently need more fighters at the moment from Palmyra's Tadmur prison which it just took control of and emptied of inmates because while they welcome all to join their Islamist ranks, Da'ish is currently having some logistical problems vetting and training the thousands who seek to join them monthly. Despite recent assertions and 'free-good' reports from Western capitals, Da'ish numbers continue to increase and as of 5/21/2015 the Islamic State is becoming a reality with expanding borders.

Like most of us, Secretary of State John Kerry understands and cares about what's at stake for Syria's and our cultural heritage and fortunately unlike most of us Kerry and Barack Obama's Administration joining with the UN, can do something about it immediately.

During his 9/22/2014 speech at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Kerry emphatically pledged that the United States would defend Syrian cultural sites from the Islamic State. Said Kerry, "How shocking and historically shameful it would be if we did nothing while the forces of chaos rob the very cradle of our civilization. Extremists want to rob future generations of any connection to this past. That is profoundly what is at stake. And if you leave it unstopped, if you don't stand up, we are all complicit . I want you to know that President Obama and our Administration are laser-focused on protecting this cultural heritage. Kerry added that "our heritage in Syria is literally in peril in this moment, and we believe it is imperative that we act now."

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Since 2013, Professor Franklin P. Lamb has traveled extensively throughout Syria. His primary focus has been to document, photograph, research and hopefully help preserve the vast and irreplaceable archaeological sites and artifacts in (more...)
 

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