Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Islamic State militias (IS) have destroyed the ancient temple of Baal Shamin, one of the most important structures in the Palmyra archaeological site in Syria. The devastation comes on the heels of the public beheading in the main square of the complex of the chief archaeologist, 81-year old Khaled al-Assad, one of the world’s leading experts on the Roman site. The sanctuary of Baal Shamin (Lord of Heaven) dated to the second century AD and was dedicated to a deity comparable to Mercury.
Both the Damascus government and the London based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Confirmation have confirmed this latest destruction of a heritage site by Jihadists. However, both sources differ over when the structure was blown up. The head of antiquities in Syria claims the temple was blown up yesterday, while the Observatory says it dates back to a month ago.
IS took control of Palmyra in May, raising concerns from the outset over the possible destruction of the archaeological UNESCO World Heritage Site, as happened previously in Iraq.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of antiquities in Syria, reports that the jihadists "placed a huge amount of explosives" and then ignited them, causing "serious damage" to the structure. The "cell" (area inside the temple, ed) is "destroyed" and the surrounding columns "have collapsed".
Even the local residents, who fled the area to escape the militia, confirm the destruction, but added that it took place at least one month ago. Palmyra is famous for its Greek and Roman ruins and from the beginning has been a strategic objective for the IS, which generates cash flow through the trafficking of looted artifacts.
Last month militants released images depicting the destruction of artifacts taken from the complex of Palmyra. And a week ago IS publically beheaded the site director Khaled al-Assad, who refused to disclose the location where they were hiding some items of enormous importance and value.
The devastating madness of jihadist militants have previously also targeted the ancient library of Mosul, with the burning of thousands of books, age old Shiite mosques and Christian shrines and the ancient temple of Nimrud, always in Iraq. Their archaeological, historical and cultural devastation of the region is, according to the UNESCO director general Irina Bokova, "the most brutal and systematic" ever recorded since the Second World War.