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24 Aug, 2015 02:54

ISIS blows up ancient Baal Shamin temple at Syria’s Palmyra

ISIS blows up ancient Baal Shamin temple at Syria’s Palmyra

The ancient Baal Shamin Temple has become the latest target of Islamic State jihadists vandalizing the Syrian city of Palmyra, officials have confirmed, fearing further destruction of unique well-preserved ruins and artifacts at the UNESCO world heritage site.

“Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin today and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple,” Syria’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim told AFP.

According to the minister the inner area of the temple was destroyed with its world-famous columns collapsing around it.

“We have said repeatedly the next phase would be one of terrorizing people and when they have time they will begin destroying temples,” Abdulkarim told Reuters. “God help us in the days to come.”

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the destruction of the temple which dates back to the first century.

Originally erected in 17AD to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilizing rains, it was expanded under the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian in 130 AD, taking on the appearance which lasted for two millennia.

Palmyra, known as the "pearl of the desert", before the arrival of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) was a well-preserved open-air museum only some 210km (130 miles) away from the Syrian capital Damascus.

The UNESCO world heritage site was captured by the Islamic State on 21 May 2015, but not before some of the precious artefacts were removed by the government and transported to Damascus.

READ MORE: ISIS youth execute 25 Syrian soldiers at Palmyra amphitheater – report

Two days later, the first accounts of destruction of ancient artifacts by the militants surfaced. Jihadists believe that pagan statues are idolatrous and therefore should be destroyed on the territory of the “caliphate” IS claims to be building in areas under its control in Syria and Iraq.

READ MORE: ISIS boasts of ‘bulldozing’ ancient Catholic monastery in Syria

In addition to destruction, by the end of May, Palmyra has emerged as one of the scaffolds for the public executions of IS opponents. To the shock of the world community, IS mined the ancient site in June, before proceeding to destroy the Lion Statue of Athena that stood more than three meters high.

READ MORE: ISIS extremists blow up 2 historic shrines in Palmyra, Syria

“Our darkest predictions are unfortunately taking place,” said Abdulkarim. IS “carried out executions in the ancient theatre (of Palmyra), they destroyed in July the famous Lion Statue of Athena ... and transformed the museum into a prison and a courtroom.”

Just several days before the Baal Shamin Temple was blown up, Palmyra's 82-years-old retired antiquities chief Khaled al-Asaad was beheaded by the jihadists after being tortured for a month to get information about the city and its treasures.

READ MORE: ISIS beheads 82yo chief of antiquities in ancient Palmyra – senior Syrian official

According to reports al-Asaad died without sharing any secrets with IS. He had been director of the Palmyra archaeological site for 40 years until his retirement in 2003.

Syria’s antiquity chief says IS is now excavating for gold in the ancient city and has proceeded to give out licenses for illicit digs for the city’s treasures to finance their terror campaign.