Reports of More Palmyra Destruction Spark Outrage
August 31, 2015
by Edward Yeranian
Islamic State (IS) militants have reportedly destroyed a second iconic Roman-era temple in the historic Syrian oasis town of Palmyra, the latest in a long series of attacks on archeological treasures in Syria and Iraq.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing witnesses in Palmyra, said Sunday the militants used explosives against the nearly 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, and that only its walls remain.
The temple of Bel is the second site in the city to be blown up by the group, following the recent destruction of the Temple of Balshamin.
IS posted pictures on social media last week showing militants destroying Balshamin, which the U.N. cultural agency is calling a war crime.
Archeologists and historians say they are outraged, while ordinary Syrians are expressing despair over the systematic destruction of the country's history and heritage.
Historian Manar Hammad, who spent four years of his career cataloguing the ruins of Palmyra, told VOA it is “difficult to speak of the destruction of a site which is so dear” to him, noting that the Temple of Bel was preserved for many centuries because it was used “first as a Byzantine church, then later as a mosque.”
“Monotheists worshipped the one God, each in their own way,” he said, but all “believed that the site should be preserved.”
That is, until the IS group occupied Palmyra in May.
Mamoun Abdel Karim, head of Syria's Department of Antiquities, told Syrian state television the militants do not view Palmyra's ruins from a cultural or historic vantage point, but rather as a heresy of past cultures from their own Takfiri perspective, which views others as heretics.
Lacking conclusive information the Temple of Bel had been destroyed aside from news reports, Abdel Karim says witnesses reported hearing an explosion, but were not certain where it took place.
Syrian Minister of Tourism Bashar Yaziji decried the latest destruction of a historic site while trying to draw world attention to the acts being committed by the group.
"Temple of Bel symbolizes Syria's historic and cultural heritage," he said in Arabic, urging Syrians across the world to help defend their past, which is now under attack.
Additionally, IS has blown up or destroyed historic churches and monasteries. It has also destroyed archeological treasures in the Iraqi historic sites of Nimroud and Hattar, along with the famous museum in Mosul.
The Syrian Observatory has also reported that IS militants beheaded Palmyra's former antiquities director, Khaled Asaad, and publicly displayed his body. They also say IS has sold a number of ancient pieces to raise money and that the militants are actually destroying replicas and fakes in some videos purporting to show them smashing works of art.
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