Monitor: Islamic State Takes Control of Over Half of Syria

Palmyra
Camels are seen in front of the Temple of Bel at the historical city of Palmyra October 22, 2010. Islamic State seized full control of the historic city of Palmyra in central Syria on May 21, 2015. Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

While coalition forces hammer the Islamic State with airstrikes, the terrorist organization has successfully taken more land in Syria. This week, ISIS took the ancient city of Palmyra, home to numerous priceless ancient ruins.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist organization and monitor based in London, said on Thursday that ISIS had successfully taken control of more than half of the land in Syria, over 36,000 square miles, though Newsweek was unable to independently confirm the organization's claim. SOHR is one of the leading authorities on change within Syria.

With ISIS's expansion in Syria, the group has taken "control over the vast majority of the gas and oilfields," SOHR added.

At this time, ISIS reportedly has not destroyed the ruins in Palmyra. "We have not received any news about [the ruins'] destruction," Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs, a central Syrian province, told USA Today. "We hope that there will be no massacres in the city or damage to the ruins." According to Barazi, Palmyra's residents are fleeing to Homs and Damascus.

In the meantime, authorities have worked to remove many of the historically relevant works from the city, but numerous monuments and temples remain in Palmyra. "The city is now totally controlled by gunmen and its destiny is dark and dim," Maamoun Abdul-Kareem, the director of museums and antiquities in Syria, said. "We are in a state of anticipation and fair [about the future of] the archaeological site and the remaining artifacts in the museum."

Beyond the historic damage ISIS can do in Palmyra, and is likely to do, given the terrorist organization's track record for destroying priceless ancient works, the taking of Palmyra establishes a path toward Damascus and the Syrian coast. With Palmyra in its grasp, ISIS could potentially move with greater ease toward government-controlled areas.