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Syria's Palmyra can be restored 'in five years'

AFP logo AFP 3/28/2016 by Maher AL MOUNES
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Syria's antiquities chief said on Monday that his department would need five years to restore the ancient ruins of Palmyra damaged by the Islamic State jihadist group.

"If we have UNESCO's approval, we will need five years to restore the structures damaged or destroyed by IS," Maamoun Abdulkarim told AFP.

"We have the qualified staff, the knowledge and the research. With UNESCO's approval, we can start the work in a year's time."

Abdulkarim's remarks came after the Russian-backed Syrian army ousted IS from Palmyra on Sunday in the climax of a three-week offensive.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian soldier holds a Syrian national flag in front of the Palmyra citadel in Palmyra, Syria, Sunday, March 27, 2016. Syrian state media and an opposition monitoring group say government forces backed by Russian airstrikes have driven Islamic State fighters from the historic central town of Palmyra, held by the extremists since May. (SANA via AP) In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian soldier holds a Syrian national flag in front of the Palmyra citadel in Palmyra, Syria, Sunday, March 27, 2016. Syrian state media and an opposition monitoring group say government forces backed by Russian airstrikes have driven Islamic State fighters from the historic central town of Palmyra, held by the extremists since May. (SANA via AP)

"Eighty percent of the ruins are in good shape," he said.

"My expert colleagues arrive today in Palmyra. I have asked them to assess the stones and the old city. They are taking pictures of the damage and documenting everything, and then the restoration can begin."

IS overran Palmyra in May last year, sparking global concern for the city's spectacular ancient ruins.

The jihadists used Palmyra's ancient amphitheatre as a venue for public executions and also murdered the city's 82-year-old former antiquities chief, Khaled al-Assaad.

They also destroyed the shrine of Baal Shamin.

In September, they demolished the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, a gem of Classical architecture, and a month later blew up the Arch of Triumph, dating from around 200 AD.

They then destroyed a dozen of the city's best preserved tower tombs.

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