Death amongst the ruins

THE WANTON destruction of the ancient monuments in Palmyra and the brutal execution of one of Syria’s most prominent historians by Islamic State fanatics sent a wave of revulsion across the world that has gone far beyond the archaeological community.

Last week ISIS beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, the 82-yearold retired chief archaeologist of Palmyra, and strung his body up on a Roman pillar in the ruins. They then blew up the ancient temple of Baal Shamin, one of the treasures of Palmyra, an oasis town in the Syrian desert that contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.

Dr al-Asaad, who was born in Palmyra and later joined the ruling Baath Party in 1954, worked for 40 years as the head of antiquities in the city of Palms, which was once an important trading hub along the Silk Road, 150 miles northeast of Damascus. He continued to work in the Palmyra museum after he retired in 2003. Refusing to flee when the ISIS militia seized the town in May he was executed after he refused to reveal where some of the most treasured relics had been hidden.

The ISIS terrorists, like their compatriots in Iraq and Afghanistan, have a fearsome reputation for killing anyone who refuses to conform to their sectarian form of Islam and for looting and vandalising ancient sites which they claim are “pagan” and “idolatrous”.

Archaeologists who have been shocked at the deliberate destruction of world heritage sites in the Middle East by these deluded fanatics are clamouring for international action to halt the wilful destruction of ancient sites, including mosques and churches, across Syria and Iraq. Given the will and the resources ancient monuments can always be restored. Nothing, however, can bring back the dead.

Khaled al Asaad is one of the tens of thousands of innocent Syrians who have been slaughtered by ISIS and the other terror gangs who are openly supported by Saudi Arabia and the rest of the feudal Arab pack and less than covertly armed and encouraged by Turkey and US imperialism.

While the imperialists shed crocodile tears over the death of a scholar and pose as champions of democracy and secularism, they secretly arm and encourage sectarian militias to do their bidding and serve their purpose in the Middle East.

For over four years the Syrian army has been fighting a very real “war against terror”. In this war the Syrian Arab Army fights alongside the Kurdish militia in the north of the country and it is supported by loyalist militias and volunteers from the south Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement. Syria has international support from Russia, Iran and many other Third World countries. But the terror campaign will only end when their sources of money, weapons and volunteers are cut.

The Baathist-led popular front government, which is supported by Syria’s communist movement has continuously worked to end the fighting through negotiations at a local and international level. But all the efforts of the Syrian government and those of friendly powers like Russia for national reconciliation have been rebuffed.

US imperialism is using every dirty trick in the book to try and bring down the Baathist-led popular front government in Syria which Washington sees as the last Arab bastion of resistance to the American plan for total control over the Middle East and the immense oil reserves that lie beneath its sands.

This is why we stand by Syria, its government and the Syrian people.