History- and heritage-hating Jihadis blow up ancient Syrian temple

From the UK Telegraph

By Louisa Loveluck

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have destroyed one of Palmyra’s most well-known ancient temples, according to Syria’s antiquities chief. 

Carefully stage-managed photographs by Isil show the moment the terrorist group destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin at the country's ancient city. 

A collage of images shows the planned destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin, which dated to 17 A.D.

A collage of images shows the planned destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin, which dated to 17 A.D.

The images, released by Isil’s media wing in the central province of Homs, revealed the temple was littered with explosives before it exploded into a mushroom cloud on Sunday. 

The United Nations condemned the demolition as a “war crime”, coming days after Isil beheaded Palmyra's elderly antiquities director. 

The extremist group seized the Palmyra archaeological site and the modern town of the same name in May, raising fears of its imminent destruction. 

It was understood to remain largely untouched as the extremists instead repurposed the ruins as a stage for their brutal executions. 

But Maamoun Abdulkarim, the director-general of Syria’s antiquities ministry, said on Sunday that the Temple of Baalshamin had been destroyed in a large explosion. 

“Daesh placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin ... and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL. 

The UN cultural watchdog Unesco called the destruction of the temple a "war crime" and an "immense loss for the Syrian people and humanity". 

"The art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilisations, is a symbol of the complexity and wealth of the Syrian identity and history," Irina Bokova, Unesco director general, said. 

"Extremists seek to destroy this diversity and richness, and I call on the international community to stand united against this persistent cultural cleansing." 

Dedicated to a Babylonian storm god, the temple is thought to have dated back to the year 17 A.D. It became one of the most important landmarks inside a city which once sat at the heart of the third century Queen Zenobia's empire. 

“Our darkest predictions are unfortunately taking place,” said Mr Abdulkarim, adding that the jihadists destroyed the famous Lion of Al-lātin July and transformed the museum into a prison and a courtroom. 

Last week, Isil drew widespread condemnation for its highly publicised murder of Palmyra’s longtime custodian, 82-year-old Khaled al-Asaad, whose body was hung up in the adjacent town. 

The city’s undulating ruins are one of Syria’s most famous sights, often referred to as the Pearl of the Desert. A survivor of Roman conquest, the site is the most complete panorama from classical antiquity to remain in tact. 

Whether Palmyra can withstand the maelstrom of Syria’s war remains to be seen. As the conflict drags into its fifth year, at least 250,000 people have been killed and the lights across the country have all but gone out. 

Like many of Syria's ancient treasures, Palmyra’s ruins have been looted by government forces, damaged in fighting and regime air strikes, and now shattered with dynamite. 

Historians said the site's significance has increased as the country around it shatters. 

“When, in due course, the killing stops, the blood dries, and the Syrian people attempt to refashion something out of the rubble to which their land has been reduced, they will need symbols,” wrote historian Tom Holland in a recent article. 

“To mutilate a country’s past is to cripple its future.”


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