UNESCO describes Palmyra as a heritage site of ‘outstanding universal value’.
The ancient city stood on a caravan route at the crossroads of several civilisations and its 1st and 2nd century temples and colonnaded streets mark a unique blend of Graeco-Roman and Persian influences.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the city was ‘under threat’ as fierce fighting and shelling continued on its eastern edges amid a regime counter-offensive.
The jihadist advance on the well-preserved remains came as an international conference was under way in Cairo to address destruction already wreaked by IS on the ancient sites of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq.
Foreign affairs and antiquities officials from 11 Arab countries gathered in Egypt to condemn the jihadists’ demolition of Iraq’s heritage with sledgehammers, bulldozers and high explosives.
Abdulkarim said Syria’s antiquities officials would try to ensure the safety of artefacts found in Palmyra’s archaeological digs over the years and now housed in an adjacent museum.
‘We can protect the statues and artefacts, but we cannot protect the architecture, the temples,’ he said.
‘IS will just destroy it from the outside.’
Abdulkarim said he had no doubt that if Palmyra fell to the jihadists, it would suffer a similar fate to ancient Nimrud, which they blew up earlier this year.
‘If IS enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction… It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul.’
The ancient city that has stood for 2,000 years but now faces destruction at the hands of ISIS: Fears for Palmyra, the archaeological jewel of the Middle East Islamists want to reduce to rubble – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3081310/IS-jihadists-threaten-Syrias-ancient-Palmyra.html