Ancient temple in Syria's Palmyra ruins is blown up by Isis militants
ISIL militants have destroyed a temple at Syria's ancient ruins of Palmyra, activists said yesterday, realising the worst fears archaeologists had for the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city after the extremists seized it and beheaded a local scholar.
Palmyra, one of the Middle East's most spectacular archaeological sites and a Unesco World Heritage site, sits near the modern Syrian city of the same name. Activists said the militants used explosives to blow up the Baalshamin Temple on its grounds, and the blast was so powerful it also damaged some of the Roman columns around it.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the temple was blown up a month ago. Turkey-based activist Osama al-Khatib, who is originally from Palmyra, said the temple was blown up on Sunday. Both said the extremists used a large amount of explosives to destroy it.
Such contradictory information is common in Syria's long civil war.
Isil - the Sunni extremists who have imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across their self-declared "caliphate" - claim ancient relics promote idolatry and say they are destroying them as part of their purge of paganism.
However, they are also believed to sell off looted antiquities, bringing in significant sums of cash.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, at least 23 soldiers and government-allied militiamen were killed on Sunday in an attack by Isil militants in the turbulent Anbar province west of Baghdad, Iraqi military and police officials said, in the second heavy death toll suffered by the Iraqi military and its allies in recent days in the vast Sunni region.
News of Sunday's attack came two days after up to 50 soldiers were killed by the Isil group in two ambushes elsewhere in Anbar province, much of which is under militant control.
Government forces and allied Sunni and Shiite militiamen have been battling the Isil militants in Anbar for months, but, hampered by suicide bombings and booby-trapped buildings, they have only made modest gains.