Fears for treasured ruins at Palmyra

  • 01/09/2015
The Temple of Bel (Reuters)
The Temple of Bel (Reuters)

Satellite images have confirmed the destruction of another famed temple in Syria's Palmyra, the United Nations says.

"We can confirm destruction of the main building of the Temple of Bel, as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity," the UN training and research agency UNITAR said, providing satellite images from before and after a powerful blast in the ruins of the ancient city on Sunday.

The blast had already raised fears on Monday (local time) that the Islamic State group had damaged another of the Middle East's most treasured heritage sites.

UNITAR says its satellite program put to rest any doubts that the 2000-year-old Temple of Bel had been destroyed in the blast.

A shot taken on August 27 clearly shows an erect, rectangular structure surrounded by columns, while a shot taken on Monday showed there was little left besides a few columns in the very outer edges of the site.

IS already destroyed the smaller Baal Shamin temple at Palmyra last week, confirming the worst fears about their intentions for the site, which they seized from Syrian regime forces in May.

UNITAR on Friday also presented satellite images confirming the destruction of the Baal Shamin temple, which the UN's cultural agency UNESCO called a "war crime".

The jihadists have carried out a sustained campaign of destruction against heritage sites in areas under their control in Syria and Iraq, and in mid-August beheaded the 82-year-old former antiquities chief in Palmyra.

The extremist group's interpretation of Islam considers statues and grave markers to be idolatrous, but it has also been accused of destroying heritage sites to loot items for the black market and to gain publicity.

Known as the Pearl of the Desert, Palmyra, which means City of Palms, lies 210 kilometres northeast of Damascus.

Before the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, more than 150,000 tourists visited Palmyra every year.