Militants of the Islamic State group have severely damaged the Bel temple in the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, in a statement released Sunday.
According to the Associated Press (AP), which cited a resident of the area, only the wall of the temple now remains intact. The latest destruction comes just days after the Sunni militant group -- which deems temples polytheistic and idolatrous -- destroyed the 2,000-year old temple of Baalshamin, dedicated to a Canaanite deity.
“It is total destruction … the bricks and the columns are on the ground,” the resident, identified as Nasser al-Thaer, told AP, adding that he heard a loud blast Sunday afternoon.
Activists had, after the destruction of Baalshamin temple last week, raised concerns that the temple of Bel -- one of the largest in the Unesco-listed city -- might be targeted next. The temple was dedicated to the Palmyrene gods and was one of the best preserved in the ancient city, which fell to ISIS in May.
The militant group has a history of destroying statues and artifacts it believes to foster idol worship. In February, ISIS released a video showing its members toppling 3,000-year-old statues in the Mosul museum in Iraq. It also showed the militants attacking these artifacts with power drills, sledgehammers and pickaxes.
And, earlier this month, ISIS reportedly beheaded Khaled Asaad -- an archaeologist and antiquities scholar who had spent most of his life studying Palmyra’s ruins.
“The art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, is a symbol of the complexity and wealth of the Syrian identity and history. … The systematic destruction of cultural symbols embodying Syrian cultural diversity reveals the true intent of such attacks, which is to deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history,” Unesco’s Director-General Irina Bokova said, in a statement released last week.