ISIS blows up ancient towers in Palmyra

Ancient funeral towers in Syria’s Palmyra completely destroyed by ISIS, in new streak of heritage demolition in war torn country

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Columns are seen in the historical city of Palmyra, Syria, June 12, 2009

ISIS reportedly has blown up three ancient funeral towers in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syrian regime antiquities chief said on Friday, continuing the destruction of a World Heritage site that UNESCO has condemned as a war crime.

UNESCO says ISIS is wiping out evidence of Syria's diverse cultural history, and so is considered a war crime.

Palmyra is a 2,000-year-old antique city home to Roman era ruins, which was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 1980.

Palmyra's funeral towers were preserved in a four-storey building. Sandstone constructions were built to hold the remains of the ancient city's richest families. The UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed the towers were blown up within the past two weeks.

Roman-era temples were previously attacked, tombs dating from between 44 and 103 AD were blown up, Maamoun Abdulkarim told Reuters.

"We expect more damage to the monuments of Palmyra, but of course it is unpredictable because it is obviously to attract the attention of the public," said Tomasz Waliszewski, director of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology which has carried out projects at Palmyra since the 1970s.

ISIS seized the ancient city of Palmyra in May as Syrian regime troops withdrew from the region after fierce fighting with the militants. Eighty two-year-old guardian of Palmyra's ancient ruins was beheaded last month.

The militant group controls large swaths in Iraq and about 50 percent of Syria, according to the SOHR, taking advantage of the four-year-long civil war and the security vacuum.

Over four years of fighting has left over 240,000 Syrians dead, according to the UN estimates.

At least, 6.7 million are displaced internally while more than 5 million have fled the country to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.

Palmyra’s amphitheatre is currently used for public killings and that countless monuments were destroyed because ISIS considers them sacrilegious. Photographs or videos of such actions are systematically published online. However tight control is imposed on communications inside the city, making it difficult to accurately track events.

UNESCO said on Tuesday, that satellite images show that the most important site in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra has been destroyed.

According to the images, the site of Bel Temple, most likely was blown up by explosives on Aug. 30. Activists said ISIS had targeted the 2000-year-old temple.

“The main part of the temple is gone, with the exception of one part of the portal, the entrance to the temple," Head of UNESCO's cultural sector emergency preparedness and response unit, Giovanni Boccardi, said on Tuesday.

The temple was dedicated to the local god, Bel, then it was turned into a church during the Byzantine era, and after the arrival of Arabs in the region, it was turned into a mosque.



TRTWorld and agencies