Syrian state television is reporting Russian jets attacked the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Palmyra only days after the radical Islamic group destroyed three ancient arches in the historic city.
The Russian government denied the accusations. Maamoun Abdulkarim, the Syrian director of antiquities, could not confirm the attacks, but approves of the assaults.
“For me it is good,” he told Newsweek, adding:
“I think if Russia attacked ISIS, and not sites, it is good news,” he says. “We need to move because each week we have new destruction and there’s a lots of lost monuments in Palmyra.
“If the attacks help to save Palmyra, attacks, not just from the Russian army, are welcome. Coalition, opposition, Russia,” he adds. “We will lose Palmyra if it stays in the hands of these terrorists groups. I am sure we are at risk. We are at the last resort.
“If they help us to recover Palmyra, it will be good if it is not too late. We have lost some very important buildings that are very significant for the Syrian heritage.”
However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the Russian strikes killed at least 15 ISIS terrorists.
“It was the heaviest Russian attack on Palmyra,” said Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the rights group.
The Russian Ministry of Defense denied all claims of an attack on Palmyra.
“All reports by foreign media that Russian planes have allegedly conducted air strikes against the city of Palmyra are absolute lies,” declared ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov. “Our aviation in Syria does not attack residential areas nor — especially not — the architectural monuments there.”
Syrian television also said the jets destroyed “20 vehicles and three weapons depots.”
“The Russian air force in coordination with the Syrian air force targeted positions held by the Islamic State group in and around the city of Palmyra,” state television reported, allegedly with information from a military source.
ISIS captured the UNESCO Heritage Site in late May. At first, the terrorists promised to respect the history in the city. They quickly broke that promise when militants published pictures of the jihadists smashing statues with sledgehammers. Abdelkarim confirmed the group obliterated the 2,000-year-old statue Lion of al-Lat.
Abdelkarim told the media his department rescued as many pieces as they could from Palmyra’s museum. However, officials and authorities could not do anything about the temples and buildings in Palmyra that earned the city a UNESCO stamp of approval.
“Before taking control of the city [by ISIS], a large number of the items were moved into Damascus, but thousands of the ancient items and sites still remain inside the city,” he announced. “Many are heavy and big, so difficult to relocate.”
On Monday, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, head of the Russian parliament’s defense committee, announced that Russian “volunteers” fighting in Ukraine might travel to Syria to fight with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.