The Islamic State has reportedly blown up the 2,000-year-old temple of Baal Shamin in the Syrian city of Palmyra. Construction on the temple, which was dedicated to the Canaanite god of clear skies and fertile soils, was begun in 17 C.E. and expanded under Roman emperor Hadrian in 130 C.E.
“I am seeing Palmyra being destroyed in front of my eyes,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, told Reuters. “God help us in the days to come.”
The destruction of the temple of Baal Shamin marks the first time the militants have destroyed a Roman-era monument at the UNESCO World Heritage site. Accounts differ as to when the temple was destroyed. According to the New York Times, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the temple was detonated with “a large quantity of explosives” last month. Maamoun Abdulkarim, however, stated that the destruction occurred this past Sunday.
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News of the recent bombing comes on the heels of the insurgents’ murder of Khaled al-Asaad, who had served as the head of antiquities in Palmyra for 40 years until his retirement in 2003.
“The systematic destruction of cultural symbols embodying Syrian cultural diversity reveals the true intent of such attacks, which is to deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a statement. “One week after the killing of Professor Khaled al-Assaad, the archaeologist who had looked after Palmyra’s ruins for four decades, this destruction is a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity.”
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