Matthew Stevenson in The Critical Flame:
My son Charles and I may have been the last Americans to walk among the Roman ruins at Palmyra.
A classical oasis in the Syrian desert, Palmyra was recently captured by the Islamic State (sometimes called ISIS or ISIL) from a coalition army that included soldiers still loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
An outpost of the Roman Empire that remains vibrantly intact, the city is about a three-hour drive (134 miles on dodgy roads) east into the Syrian desert from either Homs or Damascus. Carry on another nine or ten hours, and you will arrive in Baghdad.
Dedicated to creating an Islamic state in western Iraq and eastern Syria, ISIS brutalizes the population in its conquered areas and has destroyed unnumbered artifacts from earlier civilizations. Although it has yet to take down the ruins at Palmyra, it has committed shocking atrocities in Iraq against such UNESCO sites such as Nimrud, Hatra, and Nineveh—beheading statues, much as it has the local opposition to its extreme Sunni rule. Erasing historical complexity is as important a weapon in its arsenal as an AK-47.
In recent days around Palmyra, ISIS blew up several Muslim tombs (located just outside the city) and, according to some reports, might have laced land mines in or around the ancient Roman city.