2,000-year-old temple in Syria blown up by ISIS

Satellite images showing the site of the Temple of Baal taken last Thursday (top) and on Monday (above). The temple was built between 32BC and the second century.
Satellite images showing the site of the Temple of Baal taken last Thursday (top) and on Monday (above). The temple was built between 32BC and the second century. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT • The most famous temple in Syria's Palmyra, the Temple of Baal, has been blown up, the United Nations said on Monday, showing satellite images of the damage as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group presses a campaign to tear down the treasured heritage site.

A powerful blast in the ancient city had raised fears that the militants had escalated their push to rid Syria of what they view as un-Islamic artefacts after they destroyed the smaller Baalshamin temple last week.

"We can confirm destruction of the main building of the Temple of Baal 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 the explosion on Sunday.

Unitar said its satellite programme put to rest any doubts that the Temple of Baal - built between 32BC and the second century, and which later served as both a church and a mosque - had been destroyed in the blast.

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

The 2,000-year-old Temple of Baal was the centrepiece of Palmyra's famed ruins, described by the UN's cultural arm Unesco as of "outstanding universal value".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said late on Sunday that ISIS fighters had set off boxes and barrels of explosives inside the ancient temple, destroying the inner part of the building.

On Friday, Unitar had presented satellite images confirming the destruction of the Baalshamin temple, close to the Temple of Baal, an act which Unesco called a "war crime".

-AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline '2,000-year-old temple in Syria blown up by ISIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe