IS blows up tem­ple in Syria’s Palmyra: author­i­ties

The China Post - - ARTS -

Is­lamic State mil­i­tants on Sun­day blew up the an­cient tem­ple of Baal Shamin in the UNESCOl­isted Syr­ian city of Palmyra, an of­fi­cial said, the latest in a se­ries of cul­tural relics to be de­stroyed by the ji­hadist group.

Famed for well- pre­served Greco-Ro­man ru­ins, Palmyra was seized from gov­ern­ment forces in May, fu­el­ing fears the IS ji­hadists might de­stroy its price­less her­itage as it had done in other parts of Syria and Iraq.

Un­til Sun­day, most of Palmyra’s most fa­mous sites had been left in­tact, though there were re­ports IS had mined them and the group re­port­edly de­stroyed a fa­mous statue of a lion out­side the city’s mu­seum.

“Daesh placed a large quan­tity of ex­plo­sives in the tem­ple of Baal Shamin to­day and then blew it up caus­ing much dam­age to the tem­ple,” Syria’s an­tiq­ui­ties chief Maamoun Ab­dulka­rim told AFP, us­ing another name for IS.

“The cella (in­ner area of the tem­ple) was de­stroyed and the col­umns around col­lapsed,” he said.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, a UK-based group that mon­i­tors the coun­try’s civil war, con­firmed the de­struc­tion of the tem­ple.

IS, which con­trols swaths of Syria and neigh­bor­ing Iraq, cap­tured Palmyra on May 21, spark­ing in­ter­na­tional con­cern about the fate of the her­itage site de­scribed by UNESCO as of “out­stand­ing uni­ver­sal value.”

Baal Shamin was built in A.D. 17 and it was ex­panded un­der the reign of Ro­man em­peror Hadrian in A.D. 130.

Known as the “Pearl of the desert,” Palmyra, which means City of Palms, is a well-pre­served oa­sis 210 kilo­me­ters north­east of Damascus.

Its name first ap­peared on a tablet in the 19th cen­tury B.C. as a stop­ping point for car­a­vans trav­el­ing on the Silk Road and be­tween the Gulf and the Mediter­ranean.

But it was dur­ing the Ro­man Em­pire — be­gin­ning in the first cen­tury B.C. and last­ing another 400 years — that Palmyra rose to promi­nence.

Be­fore the ar­rival of Chris­tian­ity in the sec­ond cen­tury, Palmyra wor­shipped the trin­ity of the Baby­lo­nian god Bel, as well Yarhi­bol (the sun) and Agli­bol (the moon).

Prior to the out­break of the Syr­ian con­flict in March 2011, more than 150,000 tourists vis­ited Palmyra ev­ery year, ad­mir­ing its beau­ti­ful stat­ues, over 1,000 col­umns, and for­mi­da­ble ne­crop­o­lis of over 500 tombs.

IS had mined the an­cient site in June be­fore de­stroy­ing the Lion Statue of Athena — a unique piece made of lime­stone that stood more than three me­ters high out­side a mu­seum.

Fu­ner­ary busts were also de­stroyed by IS in Palmyra.

Most of the pieces in the mu­seum were evac­u­ated by an­tiq­ui­ties staff be­fore IS ar­rived, though the group has blown up sev­eral his­toric Mus­lim graves.

IS’s harsh ver­sion of con­sid­ers stat­ues and Is­lam grave mark­ers to be idol­a­trous, and the group has de­stroyed an­tiq­ui­ties and her­itage sites in ter­ri­tory un­der its con­trol in Syria and Iraq.

The latest de­vel­op­ments come just days af­ter IS ji­hadists be­headed the 82-year-old re­tired chief ar­chae­ol­o­gist of Palmyra.

IS has also ex­e­cuted hun­dreds of peo­ple in the city and sur­round­ing area, many of them gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees, and in­fa­mously used child mem­bers to shoot dead 25 Syr­ian gov­ern- ment sol­diers in Palmyra’s an­cient am­phithe­ater.

In neigh­bor­ing Iraq, where IS also con­trols a swath of ter­ri­tory, the ji­hadist group has razed some an­cient Me­sopotamia’s relics and looted oth­ers to sell ar­ti­facts on the black mar­ket.

In Fe­bru­ary, it re­leased a video show­ing mil­i­tants us­ing sledge­ham­mers to smash stat­ues in the coun­try’s sec­ond city Mo­sul, and the group’s fight­ers have also burned thou­sands of rare books and manuscripts, and de­stroyed sev­eral other land­marks.

“Our dark­est pre­dic­tions are un­for­tu­nately tak­ing place,” said Ab­dulka­rim.

The ji­hadists “car­ried out ex­e­cu­tions in the an­cient theatre ( of Palmyra), they de­stroyed in July the fa­mous Lion Statue of Athena ... and trans­formed the mu­seum into a prison and a court­room.”

Syria’s war, which be­gan in March 2011 with anti-regime protests, has spi­raled into a mul­ti­front con­flict that has killed more than 240,000 peo­ple.

AP

This file photo re­leased on May 17 by the Syr­ian of­fi­cial news agency SANA shows the gen­eral view of the an­cient Ro­man city of Palmyra, north­east of Damascus, Syria. Ac­tivists say Is­lamic State mil­i­tants have de­stroyed a tem­ple at Syria’s an­cient ru­ins of Palmyra. News that the mil­i­tants blew up the Baal­shamin Tem­ple came af­ter the ex­trem­ists be­headed Palmyra scholar Khaled al-Asaad on Tues­day, hang­ing his blood­ied body from a pole in the town’s main square.

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