Pics: ISIL Destroys Ancient Temple at Syria’s Palmyra Ruins

Mon Aug 24, 2015 11:52:38

Militants from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) destroyed a temple in the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria, activists and government officials said, continuing a pattern of destruction that they have visited upon historical sites across the territory they control.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist and monitoring group based in Britain, said Sunday in a statement that ISIL extremists detonated “a large quantity of explosives” that they had arranged around the Temple of Baalshamin, one of the most grand and well-preserved structures in the sprawling complex of ruins.


A government official told reporters that it was heavily damaged by the blast.


The temple stood “dozens of meters” away from a Roman amphitheater where ISIL held a mass execution, killing 25 prisoners, in a video released last month, the activist group said. The entire ancient city of Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, The New York Times reported.


Maamoun Abdul-Karim, the head of Syria’s Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, confirmed the activists’ account, although the two accounts differed on when the temple was destroyed. The Syrian Observatory said the destruction took place last month, while Dr. Abdul-Karim said the militants bombed it on Sunday.


The reason for the discrepancy between the accounts was not clear, although such disagreements are not uncommon, given the hazy nature of Syria’s long-running civil war.


“I am seeing Palmyra being destroyed in front of my eyes,” Dr. Abdul-Karim told Reuters. “God help us in the days to come.”

Dr. Abdul-Karim said he was unsurprised to hear that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant had destroyed a temple.


“We have said repeatedly the next phase would be one of terrorizing people, and when they have time they will begin destroying temples,” he said.


The destruction of the temple is just the latest in a string of horrors that ISIL has inflicted upon Palmyra since seizing the city in May.


Last week, the group beheaded Khalid al-Asaad, 83, who had served as the chief of the city’s antiquities department for more than 50 years. After they killed him, the ISIL militants strung his headless body as a warning to others. Last month, the group demolished half a dozen ancient statues, smashing them with sledge hammers, and in June they blew up two historic tombs.


The Syrian government rushed to bring as many antiquities as possible from the city to the relative safety of Damascus before it fell to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, but left behind many more of the city’s archaeological treasures.

Members of ISIL have in the past sold some of the valuable artifacts that fall under their control as a way to help finance operations.

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