World | Middle East

August 24, 2015

ISIS Blows Up Ancient Temple at Syria’s Palmyra Ruins

Militants from the Islamic State set off explosions at a temple in the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria, activists and government officials said on Sunday, continuing a pattern of destruction that they have visited upon historical sites across the territory they control there and in Iraq.
The Temple of Baalshamin, part of the ancient ruins of Palmyra, in 2014

The Temple of Baalshamin, part of the ancient ruins of Palmyra, in 2014

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist and monitoring group based in Britain, said Sunday in a statement that Islamic State fighters 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 the Islamic State 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.

Maamoun Abdul-Karim, the head of Syria’s Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, confirmed the activists’ account to Reuters, 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.

Maamoun Abdul-Karim, the head of Syria’s Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, confirmed the activists’ account to Reuters, 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.

“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 the Islamic State 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, Islamic State 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, but left behind many more of the city’s archaeological treasures, not to mention thousands of its residents.

Members of the Islamic State consider artifacts that date from before the birth of Islam to be symbols of paganism that must be destroyed, although they have in the past sold some of the more valuable ones that fall under their control as a way to help finance operations.

The Temple of Baalshamin was built more than 2,000 years ago and was dedicated to the Phoenician god Baalshamin.

Text by The New York Times
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