Russian specialists arrive to demine Syria's ancient city of Palmyra

Russian military specialists arrived in Syria on Thursday to demine ancient sites in the city of Palmyra, recently liberated from the terrorist group Islamic State, Russian state news agency TASS reported.

"According to preliminary estimates, more than 180 hectares of the city's historical and residential areas will have to be demined," said General Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian military's Main Operations Directorate.

The specialists from the military's international anti-landmine centre arrived in Russia's Humaymim airbase on the north-west Syrian coast and will travel another 340 kilometres to the central city of Palmyra, TASS reported.

The specialists are equipped with advanced landmine-detection machinery, sniffer dogs and robots, TASS reported. Palmyra, built on an oasis, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with monuments thousands of years old.

Russian President Vladimir Putin received the permission of UNESCO's head Irina Bokova, as well as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in phone calls on Tuesday to conduct demining operations at the city's ancient sites.

Last week, Russia's military helped Syrian state forces liberate the city from the terrorist group Islamic State, which had occupied it for almost a year and blown up many monuments pre-dating the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

Syria's Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums is optimistic that the destroyed ancient sites, which include the temples of Bel and Baal-Shamin, can be rebuilt within five years.

"More than 80 per cent of the antiquities in the territory of the museum preserve have survived and are in a satisfactory condition," the directorate said in comments carried by TASS on Tuesday.

Russia's prestigious Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, which has a sizable collection of artefacts from Palmyra, has offered to help restore the city's ancient sites.

Specialists from the museum will compile research materials necessary for the reconstruction, as "the museum's assistance is especially important in the preliminary stage of assessment," the museum said in an email to dpa.

Russia began a bombing campaign against insurgents in Syria last year to support al-Assad, a longtime ally, and restore some stability to the country. With Russia's support, al-Assad's military has regained significant territory.

The Syrian conflict, which began in 2011 with a government crackdown on a protest movement against al-Assad, has claimed the lives of at least 250,000 people, according to August 2015 estimates by the United Nations.

Last update: Thu, 31/03/2016 - 13:41

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