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ISIS Destroys Part of Roman Amphitheater in Palmyra, Syria


The Roman amphitheater, left, in Palmyra, Syria, in 2016. Satellite pictures on the right show the structure before it was damaged, above, and after.

Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Islamic State militants have destroyed the facade of a second-century Roman amphitheater and another ancient monument in the historic city of Palmyra, Syria, the Syrian state-run news agency reported on Friday.

The news agency, SANA, said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, had destroyed part of the amphitheater and severely damaged a tetrapylon, a square structure of four plinths, each with four columns. The agency said the tetrapylon had two columns still standing and appeared to have been “intentionally destroyed using explosives.”


The tetrapylon, left, at Palmyra in April 2016. Satellite pictures on the right show the structure before it was damaged, above, and after.

Bryan Denton for The New York Times

The smashing of the ancient structures was a further attempt by the group to impose its will by destroying monuments or artifacts that it says do not conform to its strict interpretation of Islam. The group’s demolition of historic sites in Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere has drawn international opprobrium; Unesco has branded the actions “cultural cleansing.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain, said the destruction of the two sites in Palmyra appeared to have taken place on Jan. 11. The observatory said the acts could have been a demonstration of force before the militant group, which is under siege in Iraq and in Syria, retreats from the city.

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The Ancient Syrian City of Palmyra

CreditJoseph Eid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Islamic State retook Palmyra in December, nine months after Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, pushed the group out. The militant group had terrorized citizens and destroyed numerous priceless remains in the desert city, declared a World Heritage site by Unesco.

The targeting of Palmyra’s cultural treasures has particular resonance as the city’s heritage, which embodies Greek, Persian, Roman and Islamic cultures, is a vivid symbol of a prewar, multicultural Syria that is anathema to the Islamic State’s brutal and monolithic worldview.


The Strategy Behind the Islamic State’s Destruction of Ancient Sites

As it expanded across Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State destroyed many archaeological sites, looting them for profit and damaging some for propaganda.

OPEN Graphic

Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s director general of antiquities and museums, called Friday for the world to save Palmyra from further destruction. “ISIS is destroying Palmyra, building after building,” he said. “In the past, their goal was ideological,” he added, but as the group is steadily losing territory, it has become a matter of “revenge.”

The Islamic State captured Palmyra in May 2015, and it quickly started targeting cultural sites and killing soldiers and some residents who had been left behind. In a matter of months, the militants began to plunder and destroy ancient artifacts, including the 1,800-year-old Arch of Triumph, once a popular draw for tourists, and the nearly 2,000-year-old Temple of Baalshamin.

At the time, Unesco’s director general, Irina Bokova, said the destruction of the Arch of Triumph “shows how extremists are terrified by history and culture.”

Celebrated as the “Pearl of the Desert,” Palmyra, about 150 miles northeast of Damascus, was once a refuge for travelers on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route. Temples have stood in Palmyra for thousands of years.

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