ISIS Blows Up Ancient Palmyra Temple

ISIS jihadists set off explosion at Bel Temple in Palmyra, severely damaging it.

Ben Ariel ,

Ancient ruins in Palmyra
Ancient ruins in Palmyra

The Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group continues its destruction of ancient sites, as activists said Sunday that ISIS had severely damaged the Bel Temple in Palmyra, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The 2,000-year-old temple, considered one of the greatest sites of the ancient world, was part of the remains of the city of Palmyra that was seized by ISIS in May.

A Palmyra resident, who goes by the name of Nasser al-Thaer, told AP that ISIS militants set off a huge blast at 1:45 p.m. Sunday.

"It is total destruction," he said of the scene of the explosion. "The bricks and columns are on the ground."

"It was an explosion the deaf would hear," he said, adding that only the outer wall surrounding the temple remains.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the temple was damaged but did not provide details, according to AP.

The news of the latest destruction at the city came just days after ISIS released propaganda images purportedly showing its members blowing up another Palmyra temple, the 2,000-year-old Baalshamin dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilizing rains.

The UN cultural agency UNESCO, which has designated Palmyra as a world heritage site, called the destruction of the Baalshamin temple a war crime.

In June, Islamic State blew up two ancient shrines in Palmyra that were not part of its Roman-era structures but which they regarded as pagan and sacrilegious. The group’s destruction of artifacts was also condemned by UNESCO in early July, and the organization described it at the time as an attempt to strip the people of their heritage in order "to enslave them".

The Sunni extremists, who have imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across their self-declared "caliphate" in territory they control in Syria and Iraq, claim ancient relics promote idolatry and say they are destroying them as part of their purge of paganism.

The destruction of the ancient temples came a week after ISIS jihadists beheaded an antiquities scholar in Palmyra and hung his body on a column in a main square of the historic site.

The victim was Khaled Asaad, an 82-year-old who worked for over 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra.

The killing of the scholar is not the first one carried out by ISIS in Palmyra. In July, the group released a video showing 25 Syrian government soldiers being executed by teenagers in the ancient amphitheater  in the city.