The United Nations says that satellite imagery has shown that the Islamic State has completely destroyed the main building of a 2,000-year-old historic temple. The Temple of Bel in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra was initially thought to have only been partially destroyed.
It has now, the U.N. says, been shown to be completely destroyed. Last week it became known ISIS had destroyed the smaller Temple of Baalshamin, which stood near the Temple of Bel. The temple of Bel was built in 32 A.D. and is a Greco-Roman structure. The area has been a site of religious observance and ceremony since even before the Roman period.
The building had been converted to a mosque from a Christian church centuries ago and locals say they told as much to ISIS and begged them not to destroy it. It did no good.
“These terrorists group don’t respect anything, even buildings that have become mosques, they are barbarians,” the Director of Antiquities in Syria, Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim told ABC News. “I was wounded in my heart today, fundamentally, I have lost all the sense of my work. I lost all my idea about what we can do. We are very weak now.”
Explosions in Palmyra
On Sunday, residents of Palmyra, in the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, reported hearing a large explosion. The following day the UN satellite analysis centre (Unosat) in Geneva, was able to examine images from the site. Einar Bjorgo, manager of Unosat, said today that the imagery “…shows the destruction of the temple’s main building as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity.”
ISIS believes the adoration and maintaining of such ancient sites to be idolatrous and have destroyed other ancient sites in areas they control. Last month they killed 83-year-old Khaled al-Asaad, the director of research at the Palmyra temple, who had spent 40 years overseeing the entire site.
Locals say they cannot get near to the site because ISIS has forbidden anyone to go there; ISIS has, the official Syrian news agency reported, booby-trapped areas around the site to prevent anyone from going there.
The site was a UNESCO World Heritage site and the UN has called its destruction a war crime.