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UN: Temple Destruction Is a 'Crime Against Civilization'

This handout picture provided by UNITAR-UNOSAT shows a close-up of a satellite-acquired image, with rubble seen at the location of the Temple of Bel in Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, Aug. 31, 2015. (UNITAR-UNOSAT / URTHECAST)
UN: Temple Destruction Is a “Crime Against Civilization”
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A United Nations official says Islamic State militants have destroyed the Temple of Bel in the historic Syrian city of Palmyra. The head of the U.N.’s cultural agency is calling the destruction, an “intolerable crime against civilization.” UNESCO chief Irina Bokova added that her agency would try to protect “all that can be saved” from the Islamic State.

Officials say the militants used explosives to destroy the ancient ruins on Sunday. The U.N. released two satellite images of the Temple of Bel. Officials said one was taken on August 27; the other, on Monday -- one day after Syrian observers said the temple had been destroyed.

Maamoun Abdulkarim is Syria's antiquities director. He said on Monday there had been a big explosion in the area. But he added that no one has been able to get close enough yet to confirm how much, if any, of the temple survived.

The Temple of Bel is nearly 2,000 years old. Syrians consider it to be one of the country's most important shrines. Experts say it was probably used for religious purposes long ago.

An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015 purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.
An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015 purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

Last week, the Islamic State released pictures of militants destroying another ancient Palmyra temple, Baal Shamin. The pictures were published on social media. The U.N. called that attack, a war crime.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported two weeks ago that the Islamic State executed Palmyra's former antiquities director, Khaled Asaad. The British-based observatory said the group cut off his head and left his body so passers-by could see it.

Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel

Historians began saying Palmyra’s priceless treasures were endangered when Islamic State forces seized the city in May. The militants have also destroyed historic artifacts in Iraq. They say the ancient objects are blasphemous – an insult to God.

But the Observatory says Islamic State has sold a number of ancient pieces to raise money. It says the militants are actually destroying copies in some videos that claimed to show them breaking works of art.

Brett McGurk is one of President Barack Obama’s main advisors to the coalition against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL. Ambassador McGurk told reporters on Sunday that the fight against the group is moving forward.

“The objective in this first year is to degrade its capabilities; is to remove its leaders; to degrade its ability to mass; and maneuver force around the battlefield. And that’s what we’re doing right now.”

But he admits the Islamic State is something the world has never seen before. The militant group is said to have about 25,000 foreign fighters from about 100 countries.

I’m Jim Tedder.

Kenneth Schwartz, Kokab Farshori and Victor Beattie reported this story. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

temple – n. a building or other structure meant for religious or spiritual activities

antiquities – adj. relating to objects, buildings or works of art from long ago

shrine – n. a holy place

blasphemous – adj. ungodly; against God or holy things

degrade – v. to slowly break down

maneuver – n. movement or a series of movements; a military exercise of troops and other forces