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Islamic State militants destroy Palmyra artifacts

By
Danielle Haynes
The Lion of al-Lat in Palmyra, Syria, was destroyed by Islamic State militants, Syria's director of antiquities said. File photo by Mappo/Wikimedia
The Lion of al-Lat in Palmyra, Syria, was destroyed by Islamic State militants, Syria's director of antiquities said. File photo by Mappo/Wikimedia

PALMYRA, Syria, July 3 (UPI) -- The Islamic State released a photo purporting to show the destruction of artifacts a man attempted to smuggle out of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said militants whipped a man in the city center of Menbej after he was caught "smuggling antiquities from the city of Palmyra."

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Militants then smashed some of the six artifacts and forced the man to smash the others as a crowd watched.

Meanwhile, Syria's antiquities director, Maamoun Abdelkarim, on Thursday told the BBC IS -- also identified as Daesh and the acronyms ISIS and ISIL -- also destroyed a 2,000-year-old statue of a 10-foot tall lion in Palmyra.

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He said the destruction of the Lion of al-Lat is "the most serious crime [IS has] committed against Palmyra's heritage."

It's unclear if the smaller sculptures were fake, SOHR said, because it is believed IS has sold authentic antiquities to neighboring countries to raise funds.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on Thursday said it was difficult for officials to investigate claims of the illegal trade of antiquities. She called on the U.N. Security Council "to share any relevant intelligence they may have in this regard, to help counter these criminal activities.

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"It is said you can't fight an enemy you don't know -- this is why we need more research and better analysis," Bokova said, calling for assistance from British think tank RUSI.

Bokova's plea came one day after UNESCO said it will use satellites to monitor and protect threatened ancient archaeological sites. IS has destroyed mausoleums, temples and statues around the area on a wide scale, and planted explosives within Palmyra. It previously destroyed Assyrian ruins and artifacts in Syria.

Bokova called the practice of destroying artifacts and archaeological sites a "cultural cleansing."

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It is "used as a tactic of war, to terrify populations, to finance criminal activities," she said.

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