Jonny Bealby, founder of tour operator Wild Frontiers, told Telegraph Travel that Syria had, from nowhere, grown to become his company’s second biggest selling destination.
“It had everything really – the obvious stuff was the ancient history and culture, but also in terms of cuisine and the friendliness of the people. The accommodation was good, the infrastructure was good, the guides were good. You really had everything you needed to make a really good cultural holiday there.”
Then the fighting increased and Syria started to feature on the front pages of Western newspapers. And the whisperings of kidnappings and shellings, bombings and sniper fire, civilians dying and journalists disappearing became startlingly, horribly real. Jonny Bealby’s last group of tourists was there in April 2011, crossing over into Syria from neighbouring Lebanon. “That was tricky, so the problems were already well established on the border. We did get the group in – but I don’t think they could get all the way to Aleppo.”
Contact with partners that British tour operators used on the ground has now dried up.
Last week, a joint statement was released by Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General; Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, and Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations-League of Arab States Joint Special Representative for Syria, calling for an end to the destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage.
“As the people of Syria continue to endure incalculable human suffering and loss, their country’s rich tapestry of cultural heritage is being ripped to shreds. World Heritage sites have suffered considerable and sometimes irreversible damage”, the statement said…
Syrian troops have captured a famous Crusader castle near the border with Lebanon. The gain by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad took place following days of intense clashes with Islamist rebel militants. Syrian government forces raised their two-starred flag over the castle’s hilltop perch. But it has sustained some damage: