The ancient ruins of Palmyra are still being plundered by looters, under the watch of the Syrian and Russian forces that captured the city from Isil earlier this year, archaeologists claim. In the 10 months that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) controlled the 4,000-year-old city, it destroyed Unesco-listed temples and made millions from selling relics. When President Bashar al-Assad’s army and its Russian backers retook the city in March they were heralded as saviours of Syria’s cultural heritage.
However, members of the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA) have told The Telegraph they have allowed the practice to continue in return for bribes. “The illegal excavations have flourished despite the change of the parties controlling Palmyra,” said Chiekhmous Ali, head of APSA, a group of Syrian archaeologists based in Strasbourg which has contacts inside the city. He added: “The antiquities trade in Palmyra continues to be conducted by the same looters, who have been able to deal with Isil, the regime and the Russians. They bribe some officers and soldiers to turn a blind eye.” The site is now controlled by the Russian military, which has built a base within the Unesco-protected zone. An official from the body who visited the site in April said the encampment could be in contravention to international treaties protecting historic zones.