08/25/2015, 00.00
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ISIS posts pictures of Palmyra temple destruction

The Jihadi group posts a series of photos showing the destruction of the Baalshamin Temple. For archaeologist, economic interests drive attacks on heritage sites. For UNESCO, ISIS actions are a “war crime”. They “deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history.”

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Islamic State in in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) today released a series of pictures showing the destruction of a section of the temple complex in Palmyra, a Greco-Roman archaeological heritage site, which they seized in May.

The Jihadi group posted five images online showing its militants placing explosive inside the Baalshamin temple and adjacent walls. Other pictures show powerful explosion (pictured) and a pile of rubble where the temple once stood, one of Palmyra’s main buildings.  

For UNESCO, the specialised agency of the United Nations (UN) whose purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture, such actions by ISIS constitute a "war crime”. For its director-general, Irina Bokova, they "deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history".

ISIS, which seized large chunks of Syrian and Iraqi territory last year, took Palmyra, in central Syria, from pro-Assad forces back in May.

Fortunately, before Palmyra’s fall, government officials and site officials were able to remove most of the treasures, including hundreds of statues, taking them to a safe place.

At first, the Jihadis said they would spare the site, a pledge they did not live up to. Last month, the group released pictures showing the destruction of some artefacts taken from Palmyra.

A week ago, it publicly beheaded Palmyra’s retired chief archaeologist Khaled al-Assad, who had refused to help ISIS find the hidden treasures.

Speaking to French-language Lebanese daily L'Orient-Le Jour, archaeologist Joanne Farchakh, a specialist in heritage in times of war, said that "the timing" of the temple’s destructions is purely “commercial”. ISIS uses the value of antiquities for bargaining and blackmail. In fact, artefacts are a source of income as much as oil.

In addition, “When they carry out decapitations inside the Roman amphitheatre, they are showing that they can use any site.” Indeed, “Every ISIS action is thought out first for its propaganda value and then as part of its military strategy, Ms Farchakh explained.

This goes for the decapitation of Palmyra scholar Khaled al-Assad on Tuesday, and the destruction of the Baalshamin temple.

Since capturing about a third of Syria and Iraq last year, ISIS fighters have looted Mosul’s ancient library, torching thousands of its books. They have also destroyed Shia mosques, Christian shrines and the ancient temple of Nimrud, in Iraq.

"We have not seen anything like this since the Second World War," said UNESCO chief Irina Bokova. For her, we are facing “the most serious attack, the most brutal and systematic destruction of world heritage".

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