Syrian government forces have pulled back, exposing the ancient city of Palmyra to ISIS/ISIL control. In 1980, Palmyra entered the UNESCO world heritage site list. The city was one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. Between the 1st and 2nd centuries, this city stood at the crossroads of the major civilizations.
Palmyra is located in the center of Syria, in the province of Hims (Homs), 200km northeast of the capital city of Damascus. First mentioned in the archives of Mari in the 2nd millennium BC, Palmyra was an established caravan oasis. In the mid-first century AD, it came under Roman control as part of the province of Syria. It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire.
Following the end of World War I, the French administered Syria until granting independence in 1946. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights region to Israel. In November 1970, Hafiz al-Asad, a member of the socialist Ba'th Party and the minority Alawi sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. Following the death of President al-Asad, his son, Bashar al-Asad, was approved as president by popular referendum in July 2000.
In May 2007, Bashar al-Asad's second term as president was approved by popular referendum. Influenced by major uprisings that began elsewhere in the region, antigovernment protests broke out in the southern province of Dar'a in March 2011. Unrest continues in Syria, and according to the United Nations, the death toll among Syrian Government forces, opposition forces, and civilians has reached 220,000. As of 2015, the conflict has displaced 11.6 million people, including 7.6 million people internally.
Despite modest economic growth and reform prior to the outbreak of unrest, Syria's economy continues to deteriorate amid the ongoing conflict that began in 2011. The economy further contracted in 2014 because of international sanctions, widespread infrastructure damage, diminished domestic consumption and production, reduced subsidies, and high inflation. The economy remains highly regulated by the government. Syria has a varied industrial base including: petroleum, textiles, food processing, beverages, tobacco, phosphate rock mining, cement, oil seeds crushing, and automobile assembly. Its natural resources include: petroleum, phosphates, chrome and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, and gypsum.
CIA World Factbook; State Department; UNESCO, 5/2015; 5/2015; 5/2015