Islamic State crisis: Middle East media reports on Palmyra 'chaos'
TV channels and press in the Middle East are reporting that a climate of fear now prevails in the ancient city of Palmyra, following its fall to Islamic State (IS) militants. Some social media users, on the other hand, have taken to Twitter to celebrate the fall of the city's notorious prison.
Al-Jazeera TV quoted an IS statement announcing its seizure of key sites in the city. Both Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya TV channels spoke of the climate of "fear" and "chaos" that had descended on the city since its fall to the militants.
"IS occupies Palmyra, monuments in terror's hand", reads a headline in UAE daily al-Khalij. Saudi-run channel al-Arabiya TV quotes the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) as saying Islamic State now controls "over 50 per cent" of the country.
"After the withdrawal of the Syrian army, IS controls the ancient city of Palmyra," Jordan's pro-government Al-Ghad newspaper says. "IS in full control of Palmyra in central Syria", says Egyptian daily Al-Yawm al-Sabi.
Al-Arabiya showed footage of people leaving the city, walking past historic sites carrying their belongings.
Iranian state TV also carried brief reports saying the city had fallen into the hands of Islamic State.
'Protect the people'
In a surprise admission, Syrian state TV conceded that government forces "withdrew" from the city "...following the advance of large numbers of terrorist IS group members".
In contrast, state-run newspapers like Al-Thawrah and Tishrin emphasised that Syrian troops had made gains elsewhere. "Army thwarts infiltration attempt into Palmyra's rural areas", said Tishrin.
"IS sweeps Palmyra" reads the front-page of a privately-owned Syrian daily Al-Watan. "The people are the real treasure of Palmyra... and should be protected first and before any other thing" it says, adding the fall of the city has left "a stain on the conscience of the international community."
Al-Arabiya TV has been reporting on the possible fate of Palmyra's historic sites and artefacts for several days now as IS forces advanced on the city. But earlier today, the channel cited activists as saying there had been "no reports yet of vandalism of artefacts".
Syrian state TV quoted the country's head of artefacts and museums, Dr Ma'mun Abd-al Karim, as reassuring viewers that "hundreds of statues and unique artefacts had been moved to safe places and the criminals and IS terrorists will not reach them".
On social media, the Arabic and English language hashtag #Palmyra is trending in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the UAE, and has generated tens of thousands of tweets in the last 24 hours.
While most of the comments focus on the city's capture, some social media users chose instead to celebrate the fall of the city's notorious jail and the release of its prisoners under the Arabic hashtags #Palmyra_Prison.
Palmyra prison has reportedly been used by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to detain political prisoners, particularly Islamists, who are opposed to its rule. It is known for its harsh conditions and human rights abuses.
"Syrian state media is mourning the antiquities of Palmyra. What about the tens of thousands of people that were executed and killed under torture in Palmyra prison over the last few decades?", tweets Lama Khatir, who has over 18,000 followers.
"They cried over some rocks in Palmyra while they forgot about the people for decades," Islamic scholar Muhammad al-Mukhtar al-Shanqiti tweeted to his 200,000 followers.
Syrian Al-Jazeera presenter Faysal al-Qasim explains the reasons for the ambivalence of some Syrians over the fall of Palmyra, saying: "Why are you afraid that the ruins of Palmyra will be destroyed if the tyrants of Damascus have already turned most Syrian cities into ruins?"
He also attempts to explain some of the sympathy shown towards IS: "From a young Syrian man: I never thought of supporting IS but after [President Assad] destroyed my home, killed my brother and stole my father's house, [I say] long live IS and flatten Bashar's army!".