Britain should send in experts to help restore Palmyra, says Boris Johnson

The ancient city of Palmyra, Syria which is an archaeological gem that Syrian troops took back from Islamic State fighters. Picture by Ron Van Oers, UNESCO via Associated Press
Joe Churcher, Press Association

BRITAIN should send top archaeologists to help restore the ancient city of Palmyra – after Vladimir Putin exposed the West's "ineffective" response to the Syria crisis by helping liberate it from Islamic State, Boris Johnson has said.

The Mayor of London said the Russian president deserved credit for showing "ruthless clarity" in providing Bashar Assad's regime with military backing, reportedly including troops on the ground.

"If Putin's troops have helped winkle the maniacs from Palmyra, then (it pains me to admit) that is very much to the credit of the Russians," he wrote in his Daily Telegraph column.

"They have made the West look relatively ineffective; and so now is the time for us to make amends, and to play to our strengths.

"We have some of the greatest archaeological experts in the world. I hope that the government will soon be funding them to go to Syria and help the work of restoration.

"It is far cheaper than bombing and more likely to lead to long-term tourism and economic prosperity.

"One day Syria's future will be glorious; but that will partly depend on the world's ability to enjoy its glorious past. British experts should and will be at the forefront of the project."

The recapture by Syrian government forces of the city, known to Syrians as the "Bride of the Desert", represents a significant blow to IS – also known as Isil, Isis and Daesh,

Experts are set to begin assessing the scale of the damage done to the 2,000-year-old ruins, with many famous monuments known to have been destroyed.

Mr Johnson wrote that while the regime itself was "evil", "the victory of Assad is a victory for archaeology, a victory for all those who care about the ancient monuments of one of the most amazing cultural sites on earth".

He said: "It is alas very hard to claim that the success of the Assad forces is a result of any particular British or indeed western policy.

"How could it be? We rightly loathe his regime and what it stands for, and for the last few years we have been engaged in an entirely honourable mission to build an opposition to Assad that was not composed simply of Daesh.

"That effort has not worked, not so far. It has been Putin who with a ruthless clarity has come to the defence of his client, and helped to turn the tide.

"If reports are to be believed, the Russians have not only been engaged in air strikes against Assad's opponents, but have been seen on the ground as well."

A replica of the destroyed gateway of the Temple of Bel is due to be raised in Trafalgar Square next month in a show of solidarity with Palmyra.

"I hope it will also be a sign of our British determination to be useful in the reconstruction of the country," Mr Johnson wrote.


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