Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants, known for their obliteration and wanton destruction of historical sites, have seized parts of the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site in Syria, according to reports. “If [the Islamic State] enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction,” said Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, to Agence France-Presse before the news was announced. “If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe.”

“It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul,” he said. “We must save Palmyra,” said Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, in a statement Thursday. The site, a 1st century A.D. desert oasis, “suffered from looting and represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and the world. I appeal to all parties to protect Palmyra and make every effort to prevent its destruction.” MORE