By Quddous Ahmed
The historic city of Palmyra has fallen almost entirely under the control of Islamic State, after forces loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, collapsed after a seven-day siege that has left the ruins exposed to near-certain destruction by the terror group.
Activists from the city and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said most of Palmyra fell on Wednesday shortly after the Assad regime evacuated most of its civilians and began withdrawing towards regime strongholds in the west.
Islamic State is thought to be holding sway over half of Syria’s landmass after its seizure of Palmyra, where it has reportedly begun massacring a rebellious tribe and faces no opposition to sacking the city’s ancient ruins.
“There are no forces to stop them [entering the ruins],” Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said. “But the important thing also is they now control 50% of Syria.”
Isis seized Palmyra on Wednesday night after a week-long siege that led to the collapse of forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. The militants are drawing closer to their strongholds of Homs and Damascus and are severing supply lines to Deir Ezzor in the east, which faces an overpowering Isis crackdown.
But more significantly, Isis controls vast swaths of Syria, from Palmyra to Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in the country’s west, a tract that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates to be 95,000 sq km, or more than half Syria’s landmass. With its seizure of the Arak and al-Hail gas fields near Palmyra, it also controls much of the country’s electricity supply – those two fields power much of the Syrian regime’s strongholds in the west.
What is to come from the IS movement remains unclear, however prophecies made by the Holy Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, point towards an inevitable clash between the antichrist and Muslims originating around Syria. Much interpretation has to be applied in order to fully understand these religious concepts; notwithstanding the current political climate.
But why is IS bent on the destruction of UNESCO world heritage sites?
The devastation prompts outrage across the world, evoking memories of the Taliban’s annihilation of the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.
But experts say the practice of destroying what the group argues are false idols – known as iconoclasm – is more than a mere PR exercise.
Shiraz Maher, a Senior Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London, told Sky News the destruction represented a stated effort to combat polytheism – the worship of multiple gods – and encourage a return to monotheism – the belief in a single deity, “It all comes back to a prophetic tradition starting with Abraham, or Ibrahim, as he is known by Muslims, smashing up the polytheistic idols,” he said.
“This was seen as preventing the worship of idols and bringing about an age of monotheism, the worship of a single, all-powerful God.”
“But the world eventually returned to polytheism, before the Prophet Mohammed arrived and smashed the idols again, once again in the cause of monotheism.”
He said the practice was central to Salafism, a doctrine within Sunni Islam followed by IS, which insists on the promotion of the literal truth as understood by its apparent meaning in the scripture of the Qur’an.
“It is very much at the heart of the Salafist tradition,” he said.
“But we saw it with the Taliban in 2001 and we now see this group doing the same thing.
“It is also a means of asserting their authority and saying ‘We are in charge, we will do what we want and we don’t care about the outrage this causes’.”
What do you think regarding IS and it’s future? Can you see IS establishing itself as a recognised state, or will it be wiped off the face of the earth? Email us at email@example.com to share your thoughts with us.
Sources: The Guardian Online, Sky News, islamicweb.com, aina.org, politikforen.net