Islamic State group destroys ancient Palmyra arch

Islamic State group destroys ancient Palmyra arch
The Islamic State group destroyed a triumphal arch in the Syrian city of Palmyra on Sunday, the latest round in its destruction of the ancient city’s monuments.
3 min read
05 October, 2015
The arch was one of the ancient city's most recognisable structures [Getty]
Syrian activists said late on Sunday that Islamic State group (IS) fighters had destroyed a nearly 2,000-year-old arch in the ancient city of Palmyra, the latest victim in the group's campaign to destroy historic sites across the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

The Arch of Triumph was one of the most recognizable sites in Palmyra, the central city affectionately known by Syrians as the "Bride of the Desert," which the IS group seized in May. The monumental arch sat atop the famed colonnaded streets of the ancient city, which linked the Roman Empire to Persia and the East.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the IS blew up the arch but left the colonnades in place.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the IS blew up the arch but left the colonnades in place
An opposition activist who uses the name Khaled al-Homsi also posted on Twitter late on Sunday that the militants destroyed the arch. Homsi was a nephew of Khaled al-Asaad, the 81-year-old antiquities scholar and long-time director of the Palmyra site who relatives and witnesses say was beheaded by IS militants in August.

Cultural heritage under attack

Palmyra's sprawling ancient complex, which also includes remains of temples to local gods and goddesses, has been under attack from the IS. The Sunni extremists impose a violent interpretation of Islamic law across a self-declared "caliphate," declaring such ancient relics promote idolatry and saying they are destroying them as part of their purge of paganism. However, they are also believed to sell off looted antiquities, bringing in significant sums of cash.

In recent weeks, IS militants blew up two famed temples in Palmyra. Satellite images showed the temples, each nearly 2,000 years old, reduced to rubble. Three ancient tower tombs were also eradicated.

The temple of Baalshamin, a structure of giant stone blocks several stories high fronted by six towering columns, was dedicated to a god of storm and rain - the name means literally "Lord of the Heavens."

The even larger and slightly older Temple of Bel, dating back to 32 AD, was a unique merging of ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman architecture. It was dedicated to the Semitic god Bel and is considered one of the most important religious buildings of the first century. The temple consisted of a central shrine within a colonnaded courtyard with a large gateway, in a complex that has other ruins, including an amphitheatre and some tombs.

The IS's targeting of priceless cultural artefacts has sparked global outrage and accusations of war crimes. In addition to pre-Islamic sites, the militants have also targeted churches, mosques and museums.

UNESCO, the UN heritage agency, has called the destruction an "intolerable crime against civilization."

Before the outbreak of Syria's war in March 2011, Palmyra's UNESCO heritage site was one of the top tourist attractions in the Middle East.

Heritage sites have been damaged constantly since Syria's war began. Syrian government officials say they have transferred some 300,000 artefacts to safe places in recent years, including from IS-controlled areas.