Inside look at the ancient town of Palmyra after ISIS devastation

SYRIA-- For five years, the world has been witness to the horrors of Syria's Civil War.

More than 250,000 people have been killed. More than 11 million have lost their homes.

But the greatest cultural loss was in the ancient city of Palmyra, a world heritage site.

This week, the Assad dictatorship retook Palmyra from ISIS -- the bad guys taking it back from the worse guys, if you will.

CBS News' Elizabeth Palmer reached Palmyra today, the first journalist for a U.S. network to enter the city.

After 10 months under ISIS' control, who would have believed Palmyra could look so good. But up close, there are monumental gaps.

For 2,000 years, the Roman Triumphal Arch spanned the entrance. Now it's gone, brought down by ISIS explosives.

And the Syrian army said CBS News can't venture further into the ruins because they are laced with mines and dynamite.

So is the town next to the ruins.

The group in Palmyra Thursday is honoring the Syrian army soldiers who defeated ISIS in battle. But no one's going to be moving back in anytime soon.

For ISIS, Palmyra was a strategic prize and an opportunity to taunt the world -- with videos that showed fighters destroying priceless treasures and a mass execution in Palmyra's Roman amphitheater.

But one atrocity has left especially deep scars, the execution of Mohamed al Asad's father, Khaled, who was Palmyra's director of antiquities.

He was decapitated by ISIS and his body put on display.

"He was so brave," Mohamed tells CBS News. "And I loved him so much."

And his father loved the Palmyra Museum -- his life's work -- now wrecked.

It's a wonder this building is still standing considering the amount of artillery and Russian airstrikes that were necessary to take back the town from ISIS.

Everywhere, there's more ISIS desecration. A whole room full of delicate stone busts, their faces hacked away. And among Palmyra's greatest losses is the temple of Bel. All but the arch was blown to bits.

And yet -- there's hope.

Mohamed el Asad is already thinking of reconstruction.

But where would he start?

The experts, he assures CBS News, can do it. Just give them a few years.

And an end to this war, which at the moment, is still happening just a few miles down the road.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."