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In Pictures: Heritage sites in Iraq and Syria under threat from ISIS militants

A picture taken on March 14, 2014, shows the Temple of Baal Shamin seen through two Corinthian columns in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres north-east of Damascus.
A picture taken on March 14, 2014, shows the Temple of Baal Shamin seen through two Corinthian columns in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres north-east of Damascus. PHOTO: AFP

This web special was first published on May 21, 2015. It was updated on Aug 24, 2015. 

In May, news that Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) had captured the historic Syrian city of Palmyra broke. There were immediate fears that ISIS would destroy the Unesco World Heritage Site, home to some of the world's most breathtaking ancient ruins, once belonged to an oasis civilisation on the Silk Road that existed for close to 2,000 years. 

 

Since then, ISIS members have used the ancient amphitheatre as an execution site, releasing videos of teenagers killing Syrian captives.

 

The most recent example of their barbarism was the execution and beheading of 82-year-old Khaled Asaad. The scholar had been the head of antiquities in Palmyra for more than 50 years and had refused to leave the site even after ISIS captured it. He had been detained and interrogated for more than a month by ultra-radical Sunni Muslim militants who then murdered him and hung his body on a column in a main square of Palmyra. 

On Sunday (Aug 23), ISIS militants blew up the ancient temple of  Baal Shamin. 


A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on May 17, 2015, showing the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra after heavy fighting between ISIS militants and pro-government forces.  PHOTO: AFP 


A general view taken on May 18, 2015, showing the castle in Palmyra, a day after ISIS militants fired rockets into the city and killed five people.  PHOTO: AFP 


A file picture taken on March 14, 2015, shows Syrian citizens walking in Palmyra.  PHOTO: AFP 


A file picture dated Nov 12, 2010, showing a general view of Palmyra.  PHOTO: EPA

While some of the city's prized artefacts have already been moved to nearby cities, most of its monuments are too heavy and are now under threat of looting and destruction from ISIS, who are notorious for razing such sites. 

Unesco has also stepped in to call for an end to the fighting, urging the world to do everything it can to protect the population "and safeguard the unique cultural heritage”. 


A file picture taken on March 14, 2014, showing a partial view of the theatre in Palmyra. PHOTO: AFP


A file picture taken on March 14, 2014, showing a partial view of Palmyra. PHOTO: AFP 

In January this year, the militants reportedly bombed large swathes of the ancient Niveneh Wall, which had stood in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul for 2,700 years. 

They then released a video the following month showing militants, armed with sledgehammers and other tools, destroying statues and artefacts in the Mosul Museum. 


An image grab taken off a video reportedly released ISIS on Feb 25, 2015, allegedly shows a militant destroying the statue of Lamassu, an Assyrian diety, with a jackhammer in Nineveh.  PHOTO: AFP


This image grab taken from a video on April 11, 2015, allegedly shows members of ISIS destroying a stone slab with a sledgehammer at what they claimed was the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq. PHOTO: AFP


ISIS militants using sledgehammers on a toppled statue said to be in Mosul Museum in this still image taken from an undated video.  PHOTO: REUTERS


An ISIS militant toppling a statue in what is thought to be Mosul Museum in this still image taken from an undated video.  PHOTO: REUTERS 

Other ancient cities in Iraq - Dur-Sharrukin, Hatra and Nimrud (dubbed the jewel of Assyrian culture) - were bulldozed by ISIS and suffered extensive damage, with the international community united in their condemnation of the group's actions. 


A picture taken on April 21, 2003, shows the courtyard of the royal palace at the archaeological site of Hatra.  PHOTO: AFP 


A file picture taken on July 17, 2001, shows Iraqi workers cleaning a statue of a winged bull at an archeological site in Nimrud.  PHOTO: AFP


A picture taken on April 9, 2013, shows a partial view of a bas relief, dated from the Assyrian civilization, at the archaeological site of Nimrud.  PHOTO: AFP 


A picture taken on April 9, 2013, shows an ancient statue of a winged bull with a human face, an indication of strength in the Assyrian civilisation, at the archaeological site of Nimrud.  PHOTO: AFP 

Sources: Reuters, BBC, The Guardian