Hundreds of displaced Palmyra residents visited their homes on Saturday for the first time since regime forces expelled the Islamic State from the eastern Syrian town two weeks ago, reported pro-regime SANA news.
Those who participated in the government-sponsored trip left the provincial capital of Homs early Saturday morning, said Palmyra resident Abdulkarim Tadmuri, who fled his hometown two months ago.
“State media and other journalists were with us. It felt like we were going to a press conference,” said Tadmuri.
After an hour and a half bus ride and several interviews with pro-regime media, Syrian army officers escorted Tadmuri and others into the city and allowed them one hour to inspect their homes and exit with “whatever belongings they could carry,” Tadmur News Network correspondent Abu Abass a-Tadmuri told Syria Direct Sunday.
“No one was allowed to stay in the city,” he added.
Residents will be allowed to return to their homes permanently after Russian engineering teams finish removing landmines planted in the city by retreating IS forces, said Homs governor Talal al-Barazi in a statement to pro-regime media outlets last Friday.
IS captured Palmyra in May 2015 and ruled the city until late last month. During that time, IS fighters used the city’s ancient amphitheater for public executions and blew up the altar of the Temple of Bel, the UNESCO World Heritage site’s main attraction.
Pro-regime forces, supported by Russian airstrikes, recaptured Palmyra on March 27, but not before several of the city’s neighborhoods were flattened in the fighting, Syria Direct reported at the time.
“When we got to the city everyone stopped—the level of destruction was astounding,” says Tadmuri.
“I searched for my house but I felt like a stranger in a city I’d never visited before.”
Photo courtesy of Tadmur News Network.