UPDATE from Palmyra: DigitalGlobe satellite imagery shows the construction of a military base within the protected zone of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On May 2, 2016 the Palmyra Coordination Committee reported that a Russian military base was being constructed at Palmyra, with multiple media reports indicating that the compound was next to the archaeological area to serve as the base of operations for the mine-clearing operations at the ancient site. AFP released a video of the Palmyra military base, which IHS Jane’s describes as “[…] secured by a high chain-link fence topped with razor wire and has prefabricated container buildings, large tents for equipment maintenance, a field kitchen, and satellite communications dishes. A Russian flag could be seen flying inside the base. A Pantsyr-S1 air-defence system was seen in the footage as well as at least three BTR-82A and three BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), suggesting a Russian combat unit has been deployed to the base.”
Palmyra was taken from ISIL militants by a coalition of Syrian, Russian, and Iranian military forces March 24–28, 2016. DigitalGlobe satellite imagery of the area became available March 30, revealing extensive damage to the outer Necropoli as a result of intentional destruction, ostensibly perpetrated by ISIL militants. Imagery released on April 22, however, shows the newly constructed military base inside the Northern Necropolis within the UNESCO World Heritage boundary in close proximity to numerous above ground and subsurface tombs and funerary temples. A graded lot with structures with two new paved roads connecting the base to the main road can be seen in the April 22 imagery, and a paved helicopter landing pad is seen in the May 10 imagery. Military vehicles and equipment are stationed both on and off the base. The base was built adjacent to a previously constructed animal racetrack.
The militarization of vulnerable archaeological areas can cause significant damage to fragile heritage assets. Digging and grading have a direct negative impact on archaeological remains, while military equipment, including helicopters and vehicles, and heavy weaponry create signification vibrations that gradually undermine and erode subsurface features.
ASOR CHI will continue to monitor the situation at Palmyra and will provide an update in the forthcoming Weekly Report 93–94.
Palmyra Coordination Committee: https://www.facebook.com/revo.palmyra3/photos/a.433973920060886.1073741829.410518082406470/502394679885476/?type=3&theater
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