IS carrying out new demolitions at Palmyra — antiquities chief
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IS carrying out new demolitions at Palmyra — antiquities chief

Maamoun Abdulkarim says jihadist group damaged amphitheater, destroyed 16-columned structure in ancient city

The Roman amphitheater in the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, March 31, 2016. (AFP/Joseph Eid, File)
The Roman amphitheater in the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, March 31, 2016. (AFP/Joseph Eid, File)

DAMASCUS, Syria — Jihadists from the Islamic State group have demolished two more treasured monuments in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra a month after recapturing it from government forces, the country’s antiquities chief said Friday.

“Local sources told us that 10 days ago Daesh destroyed the tetrapylon,” a 16-columned structure that marked one end of the ancient city’s colonnade, Maamoun Abdulkarim said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

“Yesterday [Thursday], we received satellite photographs from our colleagues at Boston University showing damage to the facade of the Roman amphitheater,” he added.

Before being forced out of Palmyra in a Russian-backed offensive in March last year, IS carried out a campaign of destruction at the city’s UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site, razing treasured temples and tower tombs.

This Thursday, May 5, 2016 photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, shows the concert at the UNESCO world heritage site of Palmyra, the central city of Homs, where renowned conductor Valery Gergiev leads a performance by the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Russia. (Olga Balashova/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
Concert at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palmyra, the central city of Homs, where renowned conductor Valery Gergiev leads a performance by the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra from St. Petersburg, Russia, May 5, 2016 (Olga Balashova/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

The tetrapylon, built during the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century CE, consisted of four sets of four pillars each supporting massive stone cornices.

It was a type of monument often constructed by the Romans to mark key crossroads but that at Palmyra was regarded as one of the greatest.

Illustrative: An Islamic State militant destroys ancient artifacts in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, Syria on July 2, 2015. (screen capture: Channel 4)
Illustrative: An Islamic State militant destroys ancient artifacts in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, Syria on July 2, 2015. (screen capture: Channel 4)

The monument had suffered considerable damage over the centuries and only one of the 16 pillars was still standing in its original Egyptian pink granite. The rest were cement replicas erected by the antiquities department in 1963.

The Roman amphitheater dates to the 1st century CE. During its first occupation of the city between May 2015 and March last year, IS notoriously used it as a venue of public executions and one of its walls was riddled with bullet holes.

“From the first day, I was bracing myself for a terrible outcome,” Abdulkarim said.

“We had already witnessed the terror of the first occupation and frankly I had never thought that the city would be occupied for a second time.

“The battle for Palmyra is cultural not political. I have never understood how the international community and the main players in the Syria conflict could accept the fall of Palmyra.”

The city’s recapture by IS late last year gave the jihadists a propaganda boost as they faced assaults on two of their key strongholds — Raqa in Syria and Iraq’s second city Mosul.

Image from an Islamic State video showing the mass execution of Syrian soldiers on the stage of the amphitheater in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria shortly after the group captured the city on May 21, 2015. (screen grab: YouTube)
Image from an Islamic State video showing the mass execution of Syrian soldiers on the stage of the amphitheater in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria, shortly after the group captured the city on May 21, 2015. (screen grab: YouTube)
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