PARIS, France, Jan 20 – The destruction by Islamic State jihadists of two key cultural sites in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra is a “war crime”, UNESCO said Friday.
“This destruction is a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity,” Irina Bokova, director general of the UN cultural agency, said in a statement following reports that IS destroyed Palmyra’s tetrapylon monument and the facade of the city’s Roman amphitheatre.
“This new blow against cultural heritage… shows that cultural cleansing led by violent extremists is seeking to destroy both human lives and historical monuments in order to deprive the Syrian people of its past and its future,” Bokova said.
IS recaptured Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, from government forces on December 11 and the new devastation reportedly occurred earlier this month.
The jihadist group had already ravaged the city during the nine months it held the site before being expelled in March last year.
The tetrapylon, built during the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the third century, consisted of four sets of four pillars each supporting massive stone cornices.
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 in 1963.
The Roman amphitheatre dates to the first century and was used by IS for public executions during its occupation of the city between May 2015 and March 2016.
Before being forced out of Palmyra in a Russian-backed offensive in March, IS razed world-famous temples and tower tombs at the site.