Syria's state news agency reported on Saturday that the recently-recaptured Crac des Chevaliers castle near the embattled city of Homs is set for a "prosperous tourist season."
Speaking during a visit to the historical site, the nation's Minister of Tourism, Bisher Yazigi, boasted that the ancient castle will see "miscellaneous activities" planned during the summer. He also expressed hope that the nearby Wadi al-Nasara valley will become a hotspot for visiting expats.
The statement is pretty baffling, even for Syria's routinely dubious state-run news agency. Homs has been subject to bombardment and siege since the start of the war and March and April of this year saw a brutal government offensive to crush the opposition's last stand in the rebel-held city.
The fighting has left much of the city in shambles, with entire neighborhoods on the front lines destroyed and deserted. Amid increasing reports of starving citizens and fighting, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution demanding rebels and government troops to allow aid into parts of the city.
The Crac des Chevaliers castle has changed hands several times during the war, and most recently rebel forces were forced to evacuate it during the March offensive. The continued clashes have left the World Heritage Site severely damaged.
This photo made on Thursday, May 1, 2014, shows Crac des Chevaliers, the world's best preserved medieval Crusader castle, in Syria. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
This photo made on Thursday, May 1, 2014, shows belongings of Syrian rebels inside a chapel at Crac des Chevaliers, the world's best preserved medieval Crusader castle, in Syria. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
To say the least: Homs isn't particularly tourist-friendly, and given the added concern of the country's constant kidnappings, it's hard to believe that the Syrian minister will get his wish of a boon in foreign visitors. It does, however, serve to highlight the atrocious state of what were formally some of the world's greatest historical landmarks.
As reports of the destruction of UNESCO World Heritage Sites have become commonplace the war, it's a tragic reminder that in addition to the over 150,000 people killed in the conflict, Syria is also in threat of losing the places that connect the nation to its history.