"Islamic State" militants have begun to advance on Palmyra, a city with a history that dates back 4,000 years. Their offensive has raised fears that the city will be destroyed like several historical sites in Iraq.
Fighters from the "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group advanced to the gates of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on Thursday, raising fears that Palmyra may suffer the same fate as several heritage sites the jihadists have already destroyed in Iraq, like the Assyrian city of Nimrud.
The extremists overran a large arms depot and several surrounding villages as they marched toward Palmyra in central Syria, where they remain locked in battle with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government forces.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for human rights, the terrorists executed 26 civilians - 10 by beheading - for "collaborating with the regime," as they rolled through the outlying towns.
'An international catastrophe'
Syria's head of antiquities issued an urgent call for international action to protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site, saying the extremists were only two kilometers (1.2 miles) away from the ruins.
"IS has not entered the city yet," said Mamoun Abdulkarim to French news agency AFP, "and we hope these barbarians will never enter. But if IS enters Palmyra, it will be destroyed and it will be an international catastrophe."
Dating back a least four millennia, Palmyra is known for its 2,000 year old ruins, Roman colonnades and the temple dedicated to the god Baal, and used to attract thousands of international tourists a year. The city also houses the infamous Tadmur prison, where members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood have been held for years.
Syrian state TV reported that government forces had already repelled several infiltration attempts by IS militants.
es/kms (AP, AFP)