Syria Cultural Heritage Destroyed by the “State Sponsors of the ISIS”: Palmyra Rising from the Ashes

By Jeff Klein
Global Research, April 20, 2016
Region: Middle East & North Africa
Theme: 9/11 & ‘War on Terrorism’, Crimes against Humanity, US NATO War Agenda
In-depth Report: SYRIA: NATO’S NEXT WAR?

Daesh is on the retreat in Syria, which is very good news for the people of that beleaguered country and for the world. However, the Syrian tragedy is far from over and rebuilding the country, even under the best circumstances of an end to the war, will take many years.

Our little international delegation — we were two Americans, a Canadian, two Norwegians, a Palestinian from Jordan and another Palestinian from Lebanon — got to see the evidence for this first-hand, along with the horrific devastation left in the wake of the ISIS occupation of the world-famous ancient city of Palmyra and the neighboring Syrian town of Tadmor.

The tour was arranged and led by a Palestinian organization based in Australia that is very supportive of the Syrian government and it was facilitated by the Syrian Ministry of Tourism and other government agencies.

It took some very intense negotiations with the Syrian authorities to secure visas, especially for the Americans, who are understandably viewed with some suspicion given the very hostile policies toward Syria by the US government. Even more complicated efforts were necessary to get permission – from the Syrian security agencies, the Ministry of Defense and the Russian military mission in Syria – to visit Palmyra, which was only recaptured by the Syrian army on March 26. We were the very first group of international civilians to view the site and the aftermath of the battle that took place there.

Some members of our delegation: Khaled, a Palestinian from Jordan, whose family is originally from Kufr Saba (now Kfar Saba) in central 1948 Israel, is in the white shirt; the author is second from the right.

Image: Some members of our delegation: Khaled, a Palestinian from Jordan, whose family is originally from Kufr Saba (now Kfar Saba) in central 1948 Israel, is in the white shirt; the author is second from the right.

Even with permission, traveling to Palmyra was not easy. Because the direct route northeast from Damascus was not yet safe, it was necessary to travel first due north to Homs and then east across the desert along a road only recently cleared of armed rebels. Even exiting Damascus required a detour to the west in order to avoid a dangerous stretch of highway threatened by fighters in the rebel-controlled town of Douma, just north of the capital.

There were also frequent military checkpoints along the way, at each of which Qusay (everyone here is identified only by first name), our liaison with the government, had to negotiate passage and show various documents and permissions – along with our passports. The drive to Palmyra, which in peacetime would have taken maybe two hours on the direct route, took us six hours to complete.

Even in the tense security situation, though, at least one Syrian officer at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus had not lost his sense of humor. When told that we were an international group on the way to visit Palmyra, his parting words after checking our documents was “Say hello to Zenobia!” He was referring to Zenobia, the famous queen of Palmyra who led a doomed revolt against the Roman Empire in the third century AD and has been adopted – quite ahistorically — as a kind of early freedom fighter and Syrian national heroine.

In Homs we picked up or military escort, Colonel Sameer, who packed a Makarev in a shoulder holster and carried a gym bag inside of which it wasn’t hard to make out the bulges of a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a bunch of grenades. Comforting.

With Colonel Sameer riding shotgun, it was relatively simple to negotiate the frequent military stations and roadblocks along the rest of the way to Palmyra. As we approached the city we observed increasing signs of war damage – bullet-pockmarked and partially destroyed buildings, down electrical transmission pylons, burned out vehicles – but nothing prepared us for the utter devastation of the town of Tadmor/Palmyra when we arrived.

The town of Tadmor/Palmyra when the delegation arrived.

Image: The town of Tadmor/Palmyra when the delegation arrived.

The place had suffered both from the Daesh occupation and even more so from the fighting to retake it. There was hardly an undamaged building to be seen and although the rubble blocking the streets had largely been cleared, there were many areas where only the skeletons of destroyed buildings remained. And the retreating Daesh fighters had left the town and the ruins riddled with mines and booby traps which took a huge effort, not yet completed, to disarm. Most of the inhabitants had fled the Tadmor/Palmyra when it was taken over by Daesh last summer.

When we visited last Sunday, the town was crowded with busloads of former residents collecting their personal possessions and household furnishings to take away on buses and trucks. Only in the previous few days, weeks after retaking the town and extensive de-mining, was it possible for any of them to return safely in order to retrieve some of their surviving belongings. But the town was still uninhabitable for civilians due to the severe damage and the lack of electricity or water.

The streets were guarded by soldiers and the somewhat more ragtag National Defense Forces militia fighters in various stage of partial uniform.

Tour guide “Tony” in front of the ruins of the Temple of Baal blown up by Daesh’ He’s holding a drawing of the temple as it used to appear.

Image: Tour guide “Tony” in front of the ruins of the Temple of Baal blown up by Daesh’ He’s holding a drawing of the temple as it used to appear.

The systematic vandalism and destruction by Daesh at the historic archaeological site of Palmyra has been widely reported, but viewing the damage was still a shock. Our cultural guide Antoine (“Tony”), who had led countless groups to visit the Palmyra, was brought to tears. Ya haram (“shameful”), he muttered repeatedly as we saw the remains of the formerly well-preserved monumental archway leading into the ancient city and the Temple of Baal which the Daesh fighters had blown up when they took the city last summer.

Only the remains of the theater had been left untouched, possibly as a monument to the brutal execution of 25 captive Syrian army prisoners that Daesh had carried out and filmed there.

We had to wait a while before entering the theater ourselves because there was a high-ranking group of Russian military officers visiting inside when we arrived. Accompanying them was a contingent of very steely-eyed special forces soldiers, despite the heat, in full battle gear – body armor, helmets, boots and gloved hands with fingers poised close to the triggers of their automatic weapons.

There is a contingent of Russian military engineers and technicians engaged in the ongoing effort to disarm mines and booby traps it the city and among the ruins, with a large camp just outside the town. Near the ruins is a former restaurant whose red sign announces, in Cyrillic and English, that it is the “Sappers Café.” While we toured the site, explosions could be heard at regular intervals nearby and we could see the smoke of detonated mines.

The streets were guarded by soldiers and the somewhat more ragtag National Defense Forces militia fighters in various stage of partial uniform.

Image: The streets were guarded by soldiers and the somewhat more ragtag National Defense Forces militia fighters in various stage of partial uniform.

When the officers and their guards exited the theater, our group leader Khaled, who like many Palestinians of his generation had received scholarships to study in the old Soviet Union (Leningrad, in his case), enthusiastically greeted the soldiers in fluent Russian, somewhat to their surprise. Colonel Sameer had earlier told us that we could photograph anything we wanted – except the publicity-shy Russians. Given the cordial chitchat with Khaled, I thought I might ask if I could take a picture. The Russian translator answered, to everyone’s amusement, with an emphatic monosyllable — NYET.

What does the future hold for Syria?

Nearly everyone we met – and they were by no means all uncritical supporters of the Assad regime – told us that they believed any hope required, first of all, the defeat of the armed rebels and an end to foreign intervention in their country. This was especially the sentiment of Christian and Druze religious representatives, along with ethnic minorities and secular people of any faith background, who together undoubtedly comprise a majority of the Syrian population.

Image: A Mahmoud Darwish quote

A Mahmoud Darwish quote

Regardless of the legitimate grievances at the root of the crisis which began in 2011, and even if the opposition may not all be “terrorists,” as the Assad regime charges, the armed rebels now overwhelmingly represent Sunni fundamentalists of various stripes, whose vision for Syria is a religiously exclusive Islamic state, not a secular democracy. This is true of the so-called “moderate” opposition which the US and its allies are arming and financing, not only the recognized extremists and foreign fighters in ISIS/Daesh and the Nusra front.

Amid the destruction and despair of the current situation in Syria, there are also signs of hope and resilience. In central Damascus the shops and restaurants are open, even if the hotels remain nearly empty. In the Old City Bab Touma neighborhood where we stayed – especially since the partial cease-fire agreement that was established earlier this year has minimized the rebel mortar and rocket attacks – the streets were crowded with students and shoppers, even if there were also military checkpoints along the major streets and at the gates to the town. There was a vibrant nightlife at many cafes and eating places, often with live music and diners who took to enthusiastic and spontaneous dancing and singing along to the musicians.

In the midst of the near total destruction in the old city of Homs, which was under rebel control and the scene of intense fighting until 2014, the historic Khaled Ibn Walid mosque, heavily damaged in the fighting, is now the site of a major restoration project. But a hundred thousand new housing units will also be required to replace what was destroyed.

In another part of the city, not far from where the courageous Dutch Jesuit Frank van der Lugt was murdered by the retreating rebels, the vandalized Syrian Orthodox Notre Dame de la Ceinture de Marie is also undergoing restoration. Across the street, one of the few re-opened shops is a café filled with young men and women – a circumstance unthinkable in zones under rebel control. On the wall is a statement of hope, along translation of some famous lines by the famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who is also revered by Syrians.

Jeff Klein, is a retired local union president, a long-time Palestine solidarity activist and a board member of Mass Peace Action. He has a blog:
The original source of this article is Mondoweiss
Copyright © Jeff Klein, Mondoweiss, 2016

Hillary Clinton: “If I’m President, We Will Attack Iran… We would be Able to Totally Obliterate Them.”




In-depth Report: IRAN: THE NEXT WAR


Endless wars are certain no matter who succeeds Obama. Clinton’s finger on the nuclear trigger should terrify everyone. ~ Oliver Stone filmmaker


By Stephen Lederman

Note: This piece which is of extreme relevance to the US election campaign was originally published in July 2015.

On July 3, 2015, presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton addressed a hand-picked audience at a Dartmouth College campaign event. She lied calling Iran an “existential threat to Israel… I hope we are able to get a deal next week that puts a lid on (its) nuclear weapons program.”

Even if we do get such a deal, we will still have major problems from Iran. They are the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism.

They use proxies like Hezbollah to sow discord and create insurgencies to destabilize governments. They are taking more and more control of a number of nations in the region and they pose an existential threat to Israel.

We…have to turn our attention to working with our partners to try to reign in and prevent this continuing Iranian aggressiveness.

Fact: US and Israeli intelligence both say Iran’s nuclear program has no military component. No evidence whatever suggests Tehran wants one. Plenty indicates otherwise.

As a 2008 presidential aspirant, she addressed AIPAC’s annual convention saying:

The United States stands with Israel now and forever. We have shared interests….shared ideals….common values. I have a bedrock commitment to Israel’s security.

(O)ur two nations are fighting a shared threat” against Islamic extremism. I strongly support Israel’s right to self-defense (and) believe America should aid in that defense.

I am committed to making sure that Israel maintains a military edge to meet increasing threats. I am deeply concerned about the growing threat in Gaza (and) Hamas’ campaign of terror.

No such campaign exists. The only threats Israel faces are ones it invents.

Clinton repeated tired old lies saying Hamas’ charter “calls for the destruction of Israel. Iran threatens to destroy Israel.”

“I support calling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard what it is: a terrorist organization. It is imperative that we get both tough and smart about dealing with Iran before it is too late.”

She backs “massive retaliation” if Iran attacks Israel, saying at the time:

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m president, we will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”

She endorses using cluster bombs, toxic agents and nuclear weapons in US war theaters. She calls them deterrents that “keep the peace.” She was one of only six Democrat senators opposed to blocking deployment of untested missile defense systems – first-strike weapons entirely for offense.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

Visit his blog site at

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs. 

Washington has Found the Solution: “Let’s Divide Iraq as We Did in Yugoslavia!”


Editor’s note:

Ramadi-Iraq-US-ISISThis article by Michel Collon was first published by Global Research in December 2003. It outlines with foresight the strategy of the US, through covert intelligence operations, of breaking up Iraq into a number of separate states. The unleashing of a civil war with a view to deliberately breaking up Iraq was part of the US war agenda from the outset.

They have found the solution! Divide Iraq into three mini-states and then pit them against one another. Does that remind you of something else? Oh, yes! It’s not the first time something like this happened….

The New York Times published an editorial on November 25, 2003 carrying Leslie Gelb’s by-line. He’s an influential man who, until recently, presided over the very important Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank that brings together the CIA, the secretary of state and big shots from U.S. multinational corporations.

Gelb’s plan? Replace Iraq with three mini-states:

“Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south.” The objective? “To put most of its money and troops where they would do the most good quickly — with the Kurds and Shiites. The United States could extricate most of its forces from the so-called Sunni Triangle, north and west of Baghdad…. American officials could then wait for the troublesome and domineering Sunnis, without oil or oil revenues, to moderate their ambitions or suffer the consequences.”

In short, starve the central state around Baghdad because the Sunnis have always spearheaded the resistance to U.S. imperialism.

We denounced this CIA plan, which has been around for some time now, albeit discreetly, in an article that appeared in September 2002. But, to divide Iraq has, in fact, been an old Israeli dream. In 1982, Oded Yinon, an official from the Israeli Foreign Affairs office, wrote: “To dissolve Iraq is even more important for us than dissolving Syria. In the short term, it’s Iraqi power that constitutes the greatest threat to Israel. The Iran-Iraq war tore Iraq apart and provoked its downfall. All manner of inter-Arab conflict help us and accelerate our goal of breaking up Iraq into small, diverse pieces.”

Will you take some ethnic cleansing again? So, Gelb wants to break up Iraq while transforming the north (Kurdish majority) and the south (Shiite majority) into “self-governing regions, with boundaries drawn as closely as possible along ethnic lines.”

But didn’t this method provoke a civil war and a bloodbath in Yugoslavia? Because all the diverse regions in that country contained significant minorities, and partition was impossible without the forced transfer of populations. That is why Berlin, and then Washington, discreetly financed and armed racist extremists, who were nostalgic for World War II. This made civil war almost inevitable because the IMF and the World Bank had plunged Yugoslavia into bankrupt to make it submit to triumphant neo-liberalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall. All of this was carefully concealed from the public.

Just as they are now concealing from the public the fact that all of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia have been plunged into misery and unemployment, which is worse now than it has ever been. Meanwhile, multinational corporations have taken the upper hand in controlling the country’s wealth.

In Iraq too, the three large populations do not reside “each in their own region,” but are, for the most part, intermingled. Furthermore, Gelb knows very well that to start up this strategy in Iraq once again would, in all likelihood, provoke serious “ethnic” conflicts, even maybe a civil war. He cynically announces that the state in the center of Iraq “might punish the substantial minorities left in the center, particularly the large Kurdish and Shiite populations in Baghdad. These minorities must have the time and the wherewithal to organize and make their deals, or go either north or south.” In this way, millions of people would be forced to leave the regions where they have always lived, but Gelb doesn’t find this inconvenient if it permits the U.S. to secure colonial domination. Doesn’t the Yugoslav precedent serve as enough warning? The truth is that, for Gelb, the civil war in Yugoslavia was a great success for the U.S. because it permitted the breakup of a country that resisted multinationals.

Again the Theory of “Ethnically Pure States”! In effect, Gelb openly refers to “a hopeful precedent … Yugoslavia.” Curious, indeed! Weren’t we told that the United States intervened there in order to prevent “ethnic cleansing”? Not at all, he admits : “ethnically pure” states are alright when they serve Washington’s plans.

While extolling “ethnically pure states” (Gelb also speaks of “natural states”!), he criticizes Tito for having regrouped in a united Yugoslavia “highly disparate ethnic groups,” while pretending that Iraq is “an artificial state” for the same reasons; Gelb is resorting to old theories held by the extreme right.

His theory about ethnically pure states is really identical to Hitler’s: “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (one people, one empire, one führer). It is also a theory adopted by Zionists who dream of Israel “purified of Arabs.” In Yugoslavia, it was the theory held by Western protégés, the Croat Tudjman and the Bosnian Muslim Izetbegovic. It was also a theory held by the right-wing Serbian leader, Karadzic. It is strange to find the U.S. extolling theories that it once pretended to fight against!

The truth is that the United States — just as all other colonialists — is for or against ethnically pure states according to whether or not it suits U.S. strategic interests. The only thing that counts is to weaken resistance. Divide in order to conquer. As always. The Britons carefully organized the division of Ireland, India and Pakistan as well as other places in the world. The influential U.S. strategist, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wants to divide Russia into three countries in order to isolate Moscow from oil reserves. The CIA also has its “own plans” to divide Saudi Arabia. In an era when very large economic and political entities are forming around the European Union and the United States, look at how these same Great Powers are organizing the balkanization of certain other states — states that resist them.

The guiding principle of U.S. international policy is that there is no guiding principle. The U.S. can pretend to fight ethnic cleansing one day and then organize it the next. And with complete arbitrariness. In the past, the United States had obliged the Kurds to remain inside the Turkish state which was being led by fascist generals, but today, the U.S. is preparing a Kurdish state, allegedly rooted in the principle of “self-determination” (in reality a puppet state). They are pretending to bring democracy to the world, but in these instances the U.S. is rehabilitating fascist theories about “ethnically pure” states.

The Danger of a Theory that Is Exportable throughout the World The danger of this false theory goes far beyond Iraq and Yugoslavia. Most of the states existing on the planet today are “multinational.” And sensible people consider themselves to be enriched by this mixing of cultures. But if one allows theories of “ethnically pure” states, the USA would have a pretext to break up any “multinational” country that resists it.

Washington, in effect, intends to trample to a greater and greater extent international law and state sovereignty. The U.S. is preparing to do throughout the world what it had begun in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, which, unfortunately, a majority of Western leftists allowed them to do for the worst reasons. Stop! It is time to assess the disastrous alliance of this Left with the United States in the Yugoslav and Afghan affaires. If anyone wants to resist global war, that is to say the recolonization of the world, it is time to come to the defense of the sovereignty of Third World countries, a principle that is embodied in the UN Charter. This change for the better took place in 1945 and the USA is intent on dismantling it.

Support the Resistance The essence of Gelb’s plan is to plunge Iraq into a long civil war in order to rescue the U.S. colonial occupation and to be able to continue stealing oil. The U.S. will attempt to divide the resistance — which can be found in all of the various populations — by punishing those who would continue to live together and by hypocritically organizing “ethnic cleansing.” The U.S. plan is to divide Iraq by blackmail, while defaming the Sunnis, who have long been at the forefront of resistance to imperialism.

Will Washington implement Gelb’s plan? What will prevent them from doing so? The fear that an Iraqi Shiite state would join Iran, the most powerful “hostile” army in the Middle East. And the fear that an Iraqi Kurdish state would become a lightning rod for Kurds who want to secede from Turkey, a respected strategic ally that lies on the crossroads of the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East. But if Iraqi resistance continues to grow and unite its diverse currents, including Shiites, then Washington risks missing its chance to implement its plan to break up the country.

The Yugoslav precedent must serve as a solemn warning! Plunging other countries into the same drama is out of the question! In view of the fact that Bush has unleashed new dangers throughout the entire world, and in view of the fact that he is resorting to fascist theories more and more frequently, the only possible answer is to build up a united world front against the policies of the United States and to support the resistance everywhere — and first and foremost, the remarkable Iraqi resistance (the mainstream media have often characterized them as “terrorists”).

The Iraqi resistance is preventing Bush from attacking Iran, Syria, North Korea and Cuba in stride. It shows once again that the United States has never been invincible. Bush is becoming the world’s laughingstock. “Paper tiger” is the classic expression. In this way, the Iraqi resistance offsets the discouragement and the pessimism that had begun to spread in Iraq after the “liberation of Baghdad.” The war is not over; it’s only just beginning. Support the resistance, because we are supporting ourselves.

Translated by Milo Yelesiyevich Also available in French and Spanish

In order to Understand Iraq:

– 23 million inhabitants, divided into 3 large groups (no official census and the USA destroyed state and civil registries).

– Shiites: 55 – 60%. Mostly in the south.

– Sunnis: 20 – 25%. Mostly in the center (between Mosul and Baghdad).

– Kurds: 20%. Mostly in the north (significant Kurdish minorities also live in Turkey, Iran, Syria, Russia). The majority of them are Sunni.

– Minorities (5%): 200,000 to 300,000 Turkmen, Assyrians-Chaldeans (Christians), Yezidis, 2.000 Jews….

– But no region is ethnically “pure”:

o At least one million Kurds live outside of Kurdistan (mostly in Baghdad, but also in the south, in Basrah). o At least one million Shiites live in Baghdad. o Some Sunnis live in the south. o Some Arabs live in Kurdistan.

For this reason, dividing up Iraq is impossible without risking a civil war and ethnic cleansing. Especially so in a climate where the U.S. has done everything it could over the past twenty years to stir up conflicts while provoking (i.e., financing) certain minority leaders so that they will favor a breakup. This is exactly how they did things in Yugoslavia.

In short, if the USA is permitted to divide up Iraq, important “minorities” risk being targets throughout the country. Then, Bush is going to say that he is obliged to keep his troops there to “protect” these minorities.

Exactly as in Kosovo, where the U.S. has installed a military base with a landing strip that can accomodate bombers (sic !), after having systematically fanned the flames of the conflict behind the scenes. Today, the USA in Kosovo is protecting KLA criminals and the mafia which practices ethnic cleansing. (see Test-medias, Kosovo questions 2, 5, 7 in our report “Autopsy of Yugoslavia”).

In order to Understand Yugoslavia:

– 21 million inhabitants, divided into 6 republics. According to the official census of 1991: Slovenia (1.9 million), Croatia (4.7), Serbia (9.7), Macedonia (2.0), Montenegro (0.6), Bosnia (4.3).

– No region was ethnically “pure”: substantial minorities resided throughout the country which rendered the country indivisible.

– In Croatia: Serbs (12%).

– In Macedonia: Albanians (21%), Turks (5%), Roma (2%), Serbs (2%).

– In Bosnia: Muslims (43%), Serbs (31%), Croats (17%), Others (7%). All of these groups were mixed together throughout the region.


Despite the warnings of numerous experts and Western leaders in 1991, Germany, and then the United States, forced the division of the country at the price of a terrible civil war and the forcible displacement of populations of all minorities.

Here also, Berlin and Washington have supported, financed and armed – secretly – separatist leaders and extremists. All this has been carefully hidden from the public.

BIBLIO: Maps showing the “indivisible” nature of Yugoslavia and Bosnia, in particular. Michel Collon, Liar’s Poker: The Great Powers, Yugoslavia and the Wars of the Future, IAC, New York 2001, P. 11 & 13.