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IS group releases photos of Palmyra temple ‘destruction’

Islamic State (IS) group | Propaganda photo claiming to show the destruction of the ancient Baal Shamin temple in the Syrian city of Palmyra

The Islamic State (IS) group published a series of photos on Tuesday purporting to show the destruction of the famed Baal Shamin temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, an act that UNESCO has condemned as a war crime.

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Five photos were distributed on social media showing explosives being carried inside, being planted around the walls of the temple, a large blast and then rubble.

Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said the images did appear to show the destruction of the Roman-era temple and correlated with reports given by local residents.

FRANCE 24’s specialist on jihadist networks, Wassim Nasr, also verified the photos’ authenticity.

UN cultural watchdog UNESCO described Baal Shamin and Palmyra's surrounding sites as symbols of Syria's historical cultural diversity, which it says the IS group is seeking to obliterate.

"This destruction is a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity," said UNESCO’s Irina Bokova, calling for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

"Daesh [IS] is killing people and destroying sites, but cannot silence history and will ultimately fail to erase this great culture from the memory of the world," Bokova added in a statement.

The temple’s tragic destruction came just days after Syria’s antiquities chief said that the IS group had beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, an 82-year-old Syrian archaeologist who had looked after Palmyra’s ruins for the past four decades.

Before the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011, more than 150,000 tourists visited Palmyra every year.

'Pearl of the Desert'

The historic Baal Shamin temple was built in 17 AD in and expanded under the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian in 130 AD. Known as the "Pearl of the Desert", Palmyra is an oasis town about 210 kilometres (130 miles) northeast of Damascus.

Palmyra’s ruins have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980, and listed as a World Heritage site in danger since 2013.

The IS group seized the desert city of Palmyra in May from government forces but initially left its ancient sites untouched, but it has reportedly carried out killings of people it accused of being government supporters in Palmyra’s ancient amphitheatre.

Before the capture of the city Syrian officials said they had moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe locations, but they had voiced fears over the fate of large structures such as the temple.

The IS group has proclaimed a caliphate to rule over all Muslims from territory it holds in both Syria and Iraq. It has a history of carrying out mass killings in places it captures and of demolishing monuments it considers pagan and idolatrous.

In pictures: IS group 'destroys' Palmyra's ancient Baal Shamin temple
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(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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