ISIS (Islamic State) terrorists have destroyed an ancient Roman-era temple at the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria. Activists reported the devastating news, considered one of archeologists’ “worst fears” about the 2000-year-ol Roman-era city after it was seized by ISIS and they then beheaded a scholar who was protecting the ruins.
According to The New York Times:
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Palmyra, one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites and a Unesco World Heritage site, sits near the modern Syrian city of the same name. Activists said that the militants used explosives to blow up the Baalshamin Temple on its sprawling grounds, and that the blast was so powerful it also damaged some of the Roman columns around it.
When the destruction occurred was unclear. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday night that the temple was blown up a month ago. An activist based in Turkey, Osama al-Khatib, who is from Palmyra, said the temple was blown up on Sunday. Both relied on information from those still in Palmyra, and the discrepancy in their accounts could not be immediately reconciled.
The Sunni extremists, who have imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across territory they control in Syria and Iraq, claim ancient relics promote idolatry and say that they are destroying them as part of their purge of paganism. However, it is also believed that they sell off looted antiquities, bringing in significant sums of cash.
Mr. Khatib said the Baalshamin Temple is about 550 yards from Palmyra’s famous amphitheater, where the group killed more than 20 Syrian soldiers after it captured the historic town in May.
The temple dates to the first century and is dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilizing rains.
The head of Unesco, Irina Bokova, said on Friday that Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq were engaged in the “most brutal, systematic” destruction of ancient sites since World War II, a stark warning that came hours after militants demolished the St. Elian Monastery, in central Syria, which housed a fifth-century tomb and served as a major pilgrimage site.
Last week Khalid al-Asaad, 81, the retired chief of antiquities for Palmyra, was beheaded by Islamic State militants, and his body was then suspended with red twine by its wrists from a traffic light.
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