Isis commander vows the group 'will not touch' Palmyra ruins

Syrian radio station, Alwan FM, yesterday aired a statement from the purported Isis commander, Abu Leith, who unexpectedly claimed Isis will preserve the historical ruins and monuments of Palmyra, the ancient Syrian city the group captured from President Asaad's forces last week. However, one expert has suggested the group may simply be playing for time.

Two days previous to Abu Leith's unexpected claim, Isis militants released the first video footage from within Palmyra, showing the interior of Palmyra city and its ruins surrounded by thick black smoke. The tourist-styled video, uploaded to YouTube by the group's official media arm, appears to show the 2,000-year-old ruins of the World Heritage Site under control of the militants yet largely undamaged, prompting international fears that the group could begin destroying the so called "jewel of the desert" at any minute.

In reaction to the footage released by the militants, Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim, emphasised such fears, warning that the group could start blowing up the ruins, considered to be among the finest and most preserved monument in the Middle East, at any time. His concern stems from the group's previous barbaric destruction of priceless artifacts at Mosul's central museum back in February and the group's wrecking of the ancient city of Nimrud in April.

But in contrast to the group's previous destruction in both Mosul and Nimrud, Leith confirmed that the group, which openly condemns the reverence or worship of any manmade or historical idols, will only destroy statues that represent idols or statues deemed polytheistic in Palmyra. He reassured listeners that the group will preserve the historical city which has stood for thousands of years in the Syrian desert city, promising that Isis militants "will not touch it with our bulldozers as some tend to believe."

Charlie Winter, Researcher at the Quilliam Foundation in London told Newsweek that there are some questions with regards to the credibility of the video clip, but argued that if the clip is real, the militants reasons for not destroying the ancient city instantly after its capture is most certainly a tactical move.

"If [Isis] do intend to destroy the ruins themselves, it will wait until it's secure enough in the region. It will also wait until there is enough people on site to do it", Winter said. "In terms of the human capital, it takes a long time and a lot of care to lay the bombs to destroy the city."

Destroying the ruins so soon after the city's capture will also ultimately devastate the communities around the site, the same communities, Winter points out, that Isis may be hoping to win over.

Earlier this week Syrian state media have reported that Isis militants have executed at least 400 people in Palmyra since capturing the ancient Syrian city. Many of those killed have been women and children. As Winter claims: "It is not a theological imperative that they [Isis] destroy the ruins completely" and reports today suggest the group may actually have used, and may still be using, the site for their own benefit --to execute nearly two dozen pro-Assad foreign fighters.

Isis has established itself as a major threat to the communities and civilians living in both Iraq and Syria, but more recently the group has been seen as a large-scale threat to the historical sites, monuments and pre-Islamic patrimony belonging to such civilisations and communities.