31 Aug 2015

IS destroy part of 2000 year old temple - reports

9:04 pm on 31 August 2015

The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has destroyed part of what's considered the most important temple at the ancient Syrian site of Palmyra, activists and witnesses say.

The extent of the damage to the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel is not clear but local residents have described being shaken by a large explosion.

The reports come a week after IS blew up another temple at the ancient city.

IS seized control of Palmyra in May, sparking fears for the site.

The world-famous Greco-Roman ruins are in the desert north-east of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

The 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel.

The 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel. Photo: Wikicommons

"It is total destruction,'' one Palmyra resident told the Associated Press news agency. "The bricks and columns are on the ground."

"It was an explosion the deaf would hear," he went on, adding that only the wall of the temple remains.

The temple was dedicated to the Palmyrene gods and was one of the best preserved parts of the site.

It was several days after the initial reports of the destruction of another part of the site, the Temple of Baalshamin, that IS itself put out pictures showing its militants blowing up the temple.

Islamic State has published images of the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin at the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria.

Islamic State has published images of the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin at the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria. Photo: AFP

Satellite images have confirmed the destruction.

Earlier this month IS murdered the archaeologist who had looked after the Palmyra ruins for 40 years.

The family of 81-year-old Khaled al-Asaad told Syria's director of antiquities that he had been beheaded.

Unesco director general Irina Bokova praised the archaeologist, saying IS "murdered a great man, but they will never silence history".

The ancient city of Palmyra is a Unesco World Heritage site and was a major tourist attraction before Syria descended into civil war.

Unesco has condemned the deliberate destruction of Syria's cultural heritage as a war crime.

IS fighters are now in control of the ancient city of Palmyra.

The ancient city of Palmyra. Photo: RNZ / Duncan Snelling

The modern city of Palmyra - known locally as Tadmur - is situated in a strategically important area on the road between the Syrian capital, Damascus, and the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.

IS has used Palmyra's theatre to stage the public execution by children of more than 20 captured Syrian army soldiers.

The group has ransacked and demolished several similar sites in the parts of neighbouring Iraq which they overran last year, destroying priceless ancient artefacts.

The United Nations estimates that over 250,000 people have been killed in Syria since the war began there four years ago.

Over four million people have fled the country and 7.6 million are displaced inside Syria.