.
.
.
.

Satellite image shows Palmyra temple destruction

There were earlier conflicting information about the fate of the temple as eyewitnesses were unable to approach the site

Published: Updated:

A satellite image on Monday showed that the main building of the ancient Temple of Bel in the Syrian city of Palmyra has been destroyed, a U.N. agency said. The image was taken a day after a massive explosion was set off near the 2,000-year-old temple in the city occupied by ISIS militants.

Earlier, Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, said there was conflicting information about the fate of the temple, one of the most prominent structures in a sprawling Roman-era complex, because eyewitnesses were unable to approach the site.

But Einar Bjorgo, manager of Geneva-based U.N. satellite analysts UNOSAT, said a satellite image taken on Monday “unfortunately shows the destruction of the temple’s main building as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity.” UNOSAT based its findings after comparing the image with one taken on August 27 which showed the main building and columns still intact.

Bjorgo said the images were important so the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO could have “objective information” about the situation in Palmyra, which UNESCO has designated a world heritage site.

ISIS, which captured Palmyra from forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in May, destroyed the smaller Temple of Baalshamin in the complex last week and posted images of the destruction days later. UNESCO condemned the act as a war crime.

An ISIS operative told The Associated Press over Skype on Monday that militants detonated explosives near the temple, without elaborating on how much of it was damaged. He spoke on condition of anonymity because members of the extremist group are not allowed to speak to journalists.

Earlier this month, relatives and witnesses said that ISIS militants had beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who devoted his life to understanding Palmyra.

The Temple of Bel, dating back to 32 AD, shows a unique merging of ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman architecture. It is dedicated to the Semitic god Bel and is considered one of the most important religious buildings of the first century.