The Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group has demolished a monastery founded more than 1,500 years ago in central Syria, near a town where the extremists abducted dozens of Christians earlier this month, activists said Friday, according to The Associated Press (AP).
The destruction of the Saint Elian monastery near the town of Qaryatain comes days after ISIS in Palmyra publicly beheaded an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who had dedicated his life to studying and overseeing the town’s ancient ruins.
The developments have stoked concerns that ISIS may be accelerating its campaign to destroy and loot non-Islamic and pre-Islamic heritage sites inside the vast swaths of Iraq and Syria it controls.
“I think we are worried about almost all the heritage sites in Syria. Nothing is safe,” said Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, according to AP.
ISIS, which captured the Qaryatain area in early August, posted photos on social media on Friday showing bulldozers destroying the Saint Elian Monastery.
A Christian clergyman in Damascus said ISIS also wrecked a church inside the monastery that dates back to the 5th century.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks atrocities in the Syrian conflict, also reported the destruction of the monastery, AP noted.
A resident of Qaryatain who recently fled to Damascus called on the United Nations to protect Christians in Syria, as well as ancient Christian sites. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said militants levelled the shrine and removed the church bells.
Osama Edward, the director of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, told AP that government shelling of the area had already damaged the monastery over the past two weeks before Isis fighters destroyed it.
“Daesh continued the destruction of the monastery,” said Edward, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. He said the monastery was founded in 432 CE.
ISIS has targeted Christians in the areas it has captured, as well as other minorities it deems to be blasphemous.
In February, the group kidnapped more than 220 Assyrian Christians, after overrunning several farming communities on the southern bank of the Khabur river in the north-eastern province of Hassakeh.
Only a few have been released and the fate of the others remains unknown.
ISIS fighters have destroyed mosques, churches and archaeological sites, causing extensive damage to the ancient cities of Nimrud, Hatra and Dura Europos.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)