Palmyra temple appears ‘intact’ after ISIS blast

Friday 28/08/2015
Maamoun Abdulkarim: Antiquities staff are not able to enter site

DAMASCUS - A blast rocked the ancient ruins in Syria's Palmyra on Sunday but the site's famed Temple of Bel appeared to be largely intact, Syria's antiquities chief said.

Maamoun Abdulkarim confirmed reports of an explosion at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, but said Palmyra's most important temple did not appear to have sustained major damage.

"The frontal columns and the cella (interior) of the temple do not appear to have been damaged," Abdulkarim said on Monday.

"According to the information we received from the town, the temple is still standing, but antiquities staff are not able to enter the site to see close up," he said.

On Sunday night, a monitor and activists said the temple had been partially destroyed by Islamic State group (ISIS) militants who detonated explosives inside the famed site.

The reports came a week after the jihadist group blew up the smaller Baal Shamin temple at the Greco-Roman site.

That destruction was confirmed by photos published by the group and satellite images of Palmyra taken by the United Nations.

ISIS seized Palmyra from Syria's regime on May 21, and shortly after was reported to have mined its ancient sites.

The group has also beheaded the 82-year-old former antiquities chief in Palmyra and destroyed a famed statue outside its museum.

The extremist group's harsh interpretation of Islam considers statues and grave markers to be idolatrous, but it has also been accused of destroying heritage sites to loot items for the black market and to gain publicity.