Report: ISIS Now Controls 50% of Syria
Destroying priceless artifacts in Palmyra may be a top priority
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 21, 2015 5:29 AM CDT
Updated May 21, 2015 6:53 AM CDT
In this Sept. 27, 2002, photo, a symbolic trade caravan attends a show held in the ancient city of Palmyra.   (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi, File)
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(Newser) – Two big ISIS headlines this morning: The first, an assertion by the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that the militants "now control 50% of Syria." The group estimates ISIS holds about 37,000 square miles, an area about the size of Indiana. The Guardian reports that claim was made after the capture of the city of Palmyra late yesterday, which the AP frames as a "stunning triumph" for the militant group. The seizure came only days after it captured the strategic city of Ramadi in Iraq's largest Sunni province, and comes as it advances nearer to Homs and Damascus. The second big headline further concerns Palmyra: the militants overran the famed archaeological site there early today, raising concerns the extremists might destroy priceless ruins as they've done in neighboring Iraq.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its 2,000-year-old towering Roman-era colonnades and other ruins and priceless artifacts. Before the war, thousands of tourists a year visited the remote desert outpost, a cherished landmark referred to by Syrians as the "Bride of the Desert." The governor of Homs province says there haven't yet been reports of destruction, and he hopes there will be "no massacres in the city or damage to the ruins." The BBC's Jim Muir, however, says world concern for the site may "actually spur the jihadists on to make destroying it a priority, since they delight in challenging and horrifying world opinion."