"Islamic State" extremists have gained control over the northern part of Syria's ancient city of Palmyra. Authorities are worried the terror group may destroy the city's historical legacy, as it has at other sites.
"Islamic State" (IS) militants on Saturday seized control over the northern part of Palmyra, Syria's ancient desert city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
"IS advanced and took control of most of northern Palmyra, and there are fierce clashes happening now," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. There were no details of any government soldiers dying, but Rahman said 13 extremists had been killed in the fighting.
The "Islamic State" began its offensive on Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, three days ago and has executed nearly 50 civilians in the past two days. The Syrian Observatory, also said the jihadists had executed 23 people, including five women and nine children.
Regime forces were meanwhile trying to keep IS from advancing further, but authorities were worried about potential damage to historic monuments, colonnades and elaborate tombs that were located in Palmyra's southwest.
"I am living in a state of terror," Mamoum Abdulkarim, the head of Syria's antiquities department, told the AFP news agency.
"If they enter the ancient ruins, it will be worse than when Palmyra was defeated in the time of Zenobia," Abdulkarim said, referring to the third century, when Palmyra's Queen Zenobia was defeated by the Romans.
Abdulkarim lamented the perceived inactivity of the international community, asking whether all countries were "waiting to weep and despair" as they did when the extremists destroyed ancient heritage sites in northern Iraq.
Palmyra, founded in the first century, could suffer the same fate as the Iraq's Nimrud and Nineveh. Ancient tombs, statues and graves in the cities, both thousands of years old, were physically destroyed by IS militants earlier this year.
mg/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)