Palmyra’s displaced seek refuge in the desert, pack into mosques

While some Roman-era ruins survived the battles for Palmyra, a local journalist told Syria Direct on Tuesday that the adjacent eponymous town is “leveled… nothing remains that points to the pulse of life.”

Palmyra today is “a city of ghosts,” Mohammed Hassan al-Homsi, the alias of a journalist with pro-opposition Palmyra News Network told Syria Direct Tuesday from the eastern Homs countryside. “It has been totally leveled, and nothing remains except for ruins that point to the pulse of life that once was here.”

Thousands of civilians fled the most recent fighting over the weekend, during which the regime recaptured the town from the Islamic State.

After the Syrian Arab Army and its allies entered on Sunday, soldiers discovered that many of Palmyra's famous archeological sites remain in relatively good condition despite the Islamic State exploding several, including the Temple of Bel and the Arch of Triumph, reported the Guardian on Monday.

Meanwhile, many buildings in the town itself, home to a pre-war population of 70,000, were totally destroyed in the fighting.

During the regime's recent campaign to retake Palmyra, which began earlier this month, 4,000 civilians fled for the northern, opposition-controlled regions of Syria, while another 5,000 made their way south towards the Rajban refugee camp on the Jordanian-Syrian border, said al-Homsi.

“The situation of those who headed towards the Jordanian border is worse,” said al-Homsi.

“They're living in a sparse desert, in extremely harsh conditions, and no one is presenting them with aid except the Qatari Red Crescent...which is giving very little, not enough to meet their needs.”

“As for those who went north, we're trying to coordinate with locals to give them shelter in houses and mosques...but poor people are the ones giving aid to begin with.”

In the photo above, a mosque in the rebel-held city of Azaz near the Turkish border in Aleppo province is filled with sleeping civilians displaced from Palmyra and its outskirts.

Russian warplanes struck Islamic State targets in the city dozens of times from March 9 to 12 as regime ground troops advanced from the west of Palmyra.

Bolstered by reinforcements called in from Aleppo and Latakia, the Syrian army focused on capturing hills surrounding Palmyra in the battle's early stages. After taking the historic citadel on Friday night, which overlooks Islamic State positions inside the town, IS began to withdraw towards Sukhna, 62km northeast of Palmyra. The regime completed its takeover of Palmyra on Sunday.

-Photo courtesy of Palmyra News Network.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani is from Latakia province. She studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor in Syria. She has worked at Syria Direct since 2015 and was named the 2018 Middle East and North Africa Laureate for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers' (WAN-IFRA) Women in News Editorial Leadership Award.

Dan Wilkofsky

Dan Wilkofsky was a 2013-2014 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Amman, Jordan, where he worked with Talal Abu Ghazaleh Translation and the Ministry of Social Development. He has a BA in Classics (Latin) and Middle East Studies from Brown University.

Kristen Demilio

Kristen Gillespie Demilio has more than 10 years of experience reporting from the Middle East while based in Amman. She regularly contributed to news outlets including CBS News Radio, NPR, The Jerusalem Report and PBS and is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism as well as the Institut Français des Etudes Arabes in Damascus.