Isis destroys Temple of Bel in Palmyra

Satellite images show further destruction of world heritage site
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Gareth Harris
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Islamic state militants (Isis) have destroyed another key landmark in Palmyra according to the United Nations (UN), which has issued satellite images showing the destruction of the Temple of Bel at the ancient site in central Syria.

Photographs posted on Twitter by Unosat, the UN’s operational satellite applications programme, show that the temple, built in 32AD, was blown up on 30 August.  

UN representative Einar Bjorgo told CNN that he could “confirm destruction of the main building of the Temple of Bel as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity”.

The building is described by the Syrian antiquities ministry as “a unique architectural icon, being one of the largest and most well-known temples in ancient near-Eastern history”.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum in London said: “We are very concerned with what is happening in the region with regard to its cultural heritage, whether it is the continuing threat to the welfare of colleagues, destruction of archaeological sites, museums and religious monuments or the looting and trafficking of antiquities. We continue to monitor the situation from afar.”

The UN has also released satellite images of the nearby Baalshamin Temple, which was destroyed earlier this month by Isis. The pictures show that parts of the smaller temple have been razed to the ground.

An inscription on one of the temple columns, dated 131AD, highlighted the imperial visit of “the divine [Roman emperor] Hadrian”.

The bombing of Baalshamin follows the beheading of 82-year-old Khaled al-Assaad, the archaeologist who cared for Palmyra's ruins for more than four decades.

Isis captured the Palmyra, a Unesco world heritage site, from government forces in May.

Unesco’s director-general Irina Bokova has condemned the actions of Isis in Palmyra, and called the destruction of Baalshamin “a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity”.


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