The ancient ruins of the Syrian town of Palmyra damaged by Islamic State (IS) militants can be restored in five years, according to the country's antiquities chief.
Maamoun Abdulkarim said archaeology experts were on their way to Palmyra to assess the damage on March 28, just a day after Syrian troops and pro-government militiamen backed by Russian air strikes recaptured the city from IS.
"If we have UNESCO's approval, we will need five years to restore the structures damaged or destroyed by IS," Abdulkarim was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.
However, Annie Sartre-Fauriat, an expert on Syrian heritage expressed "doubt" about the reconstruction of Palmyra's ruins.
"That seems illusory. We are not going to rebuild something that has been reduced to dust," said Sartre-Fauriat, who belongs to a group of experts on Syrian heritage set up by UNESCO in 2013.
During its 10-month occupation of Palmyra, IS killed scores of local residents and destroyed invaluable artifacts dating back more than 1,800 years, along with a famed Roman triumphal archway.
The extent of the destruction remained unclear, although much of the city's historic ruins are said to remain intact.
Abdulkarim told AFP that "the landscape, in general, is in good shape." He said the authorities had been "expecting the worst."
The Associated Press quoted a Syrian military official as saying on March 28 that bomb squads have begun clearing mines and bombs left behind by IS in Palmyra.
The official said on condition of anonymity that the explosives had been planted across much of Palmyra, including residential areas as well as the historic quarter.