IS group de­stroys an­cient Palmyra arch, say ac­tivists


Syr­ian ac­tivists said late Sun­day that Is­lamic State mil­i­tants have de­stroyed a nearly 2,000-year-old arch in the an­cient city of Palmyra, the latest vic­tim in the group’s cam­paign to de­stroy his­toric sites across the ter­ri­tory it con­trols in Iraq and Syria.

The Arch of Tri­umph was one of the most rec­og­niz­able sites in Palmyra, the cen­tral city af­fec­tion­ately known by Syr­i­ans as the “Bride of the Desert,” which the IS group seized in May. The mon­u­men­tal arch sat atop the famed colon­naded streets of the an­cient city, which linked the Ro­man Em­pire to Per­sia and the East.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said the IS group blew up the arch but left the colon­nades in place.

An op­po­si­tion ac­tivist who uses the name Khaled al-Homsi also posted on Twit­ter late Sun­day that the mil­i­tants de­stroyed the arch. Al-Homsi was a nephew of Khaled al-Asaad, the 81-year-old an­tiq­ui­ties scholar and long-time di­rec­tor of the Palmyra site who rel­a­tives and wit­nesses say was be­headed by IS mil­i­tants in Au­gust.

Palmyra’s sprawl­ing an­cient com­plex, which also in­cludes re­mains of tem­ples to lo­cal gods and god­desses, has been un­der at­tack from the Is­lamic State group. The Sunni ex­trem­ists im­pose a vi­o­lent in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic law across a self-de­clared “caliphate,” declar­ing such an­cient relics pro­mote idol­a­try and say­ing they are de­stroy­ing them as part of their purge of pa­gan­ism. How­ever, they are also be­lieved to sell off looted an­tiq­ui­ties, bring­ing in sig­nif­i­cant sums of cash.

In re­cent weeks, IS mil­i­tants blew up two famed tem­ples in Palmyra. Satel­lite im­ages showed the tem­ples, each nearly 2,000 years old, re­duced to rub­ble. Three an­cient tower tombs were also erad­i­cated.

The tem­ple of Baal­shamin, a struc­ture of gi­ant stone blocks sev­eral sto­ries high fronted by six tow­er­ing col­umns, was ded­i­cated to a god of storm and rain — the name means lit­er­ally “Lord of the Heav­ens.”

The even larger and slightly older Tem­ple of Bel, dat­ing back to 32 A.D., was a unique merg­ing of an­cient Near Eastern and Greco- Ro­man ar­chi­tec­ture. It was ded­i­cated to the Semitic god Bel and is con­sid­ered one of the most im­por­tant re­li­gious build­ings of the first cen­tury. The tem­ple con­sisted of a cen­tral shrine within a colon­naded court­yard with a large gate­way, within a com­plex that has other ru­ins, in­clud­ing an am­phithe­ater and some tombs.

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