There was good news and bad news on the ISIS battlefront today. I’ll give you the bad news first.
The Islamic State seized total control of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra in central Syria Wednesday, threatening to destroy “its its grand complex of 2,000-year-old colonnades and tombs, one of the world’s most magnificent remnants of antiquity.”
This comes just five days after the group seized the Iraqi city of Ramadi.
But for the fighters on the ground, the city of 50,000 people is significantbecause it sits among gas fields and astride a network of roads across the country’s central desert. Palmyra’s vast unexcavated antiquities could also provide significant revenue through illegal trafficking.
Control of Palmyra gives the Islamic State command of roads leading from its strongholds in eastern Syria to Damascus and the other major cities of the populated west, as well as new links to western Iraq, the other half of its self-declared caliphate.
People in Palmyra, a relatively remote city, its population swollen with tens of thousands of displaced Syrians, were left on their own, literally squeezed between government forces and the Islamic State.
Residents said that by nightfall, the Islamic State had seized most of the city. Soldiers and the police could be seen fleeing, they said, prompting one cafe owner to exclaim over the phone, “Treason! It’s treason.”
The good news is the State Department is deeply concerned about all of this and will be closely watching the destruction of the city.
When a reporter asked her if something could be done to save the city, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said, “Well, we are deeply concerned about reports of ISIL’s attacks on the Syrian city, which holds the ruins of Palmyra.”
She acknowledged that “the destruction and looting of these sites has been sort of something we’ve seen in other places” and it’s “incredibly harmful,” but as to the question of what the U.S. could do, Harf only had this to offer:
“We’ll keep watching here, we’ll keep seeing what’s happening on the ground.”
Harf added: “This is the reason we’re trying to push back ISIL out of Iraq and to try and help the Syrian opposition push back ISIL in Syria.”
“This is something we’re following; we’re concerned about this. Obviously, it has been caught in the crossfire for some time and we’ll speak up about it,” said Harf. “Beyond that, I’m not sure what more can be done.”
I guess Palmyra doesn’t rate a hashtag campaign.