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Syria able to save artifacts ahead of IS advance

May 23, 2015

"IS" fighters have entered the antiquities museum in the historical city of Palmyra. Syria's antiquities director has told the press that they were able to remove most of the museum's contents before it was too late.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Melzer

Militants from the "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group have broken into the museum in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, the country's antiquities director said Saturday. Maamoun Abdulkarim also confirmed that the jihadis had raised their flag over the 13th-century citadel overlooking the city's Greco-Roman ruins.

Abdulkarim said at a press conference in Damascus that the terrorists had entered the museum Friday, locked the doors behind them and placed their own guards at the entrance.

There had been considerable worry following the group's destruction of several well-known historic sites around Syria and Iraq that Palmyra would suffer the same fate. Abdulkarim said he was "proud" to report, however, that activists had managed to save all of the museum's contents ahead of the IS advance with the exception of "the sarcophagi, which weigh three or four tons," as he lamented their likely fate.

As to the city's millennia-old ruins, a UNESCO world heritage site, Abdulkarim said that there had been "no movement [of IS]" toward the city's famed Roman colonnades, which drew hundreds of thousands of tourists every year before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

IS pushed back from near Ramadi

Meanwhile, IS suffered another small setback Saturday as Iraqi troops retook territory east of Ramadi, the city which fell to the terrorists on May 17 in the worst defeat for Baghdad's forces since last summer. A police colonel told French news agency AFP that the town of Hussiba was completely in control of a coalition of Iraqi troops alongside local fighters and Shiite militias.

A swift recovery of Ramadi was seen as essential to stop the jihadis from laying booby traps across the city, as well as to cut off the momentum of the terrorists after their victory.

"Security forces have liberated Hussiba and raised the Iraqi flag over state institutions in place of the Daesh banner," a local official told DPA news service, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

es/ng (AP, AFP, dpa)