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UN confirms Islamic State's destruction of Palmyra's Temple of Bel

IS captured the area in May and has been systematically looting and destroying it.

By Ed Adamczyk
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An aerial image of the temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, after Islamic State militants said they used explosives to destroy the ancient structure. Photo courtesy Airbus Defense and Space/UNITAR-UNOSAT
An aerial image of the temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, after Islamic State militants said they used explosives to destroy the ancient structure. Photo courtesy Airbus Defense and Space/UNITAR-UNOSAT

DAMASCUS, Syria, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- The ancient Temple of Bel, in Palmyra, Syria, was destroyed by Islamic State militants, the United Nations confirmed Tuesday.

A weekend explosion gave rise of fears the main temple of the UNESCO World Heritage site had been demolished, although Syria's head of antiquities, Abdul Karin, suggested Monday the building, dating to the first century A.D., was still standing. Satellite images, and analysis by the UN's Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT) confirmed its destruction. A pair of columns is all that appears to remain of the temple.

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"Unfortunately, the images we acquired do show that the main building of the temple has been destroyed," UNOSAT manager Einar Bjorgo, told the BBC on Tuesday.

The large site northeast of Damascus, is visited by more than 150,000 tourists per year, and has been ransacked and partially ruined by IS forces intent on demolishing pre-Muslim examples of what they regard as religious idolatry. The black-market sale of antiquities has helped fund the IS mission, and the explosion of ancient structures, such as Palmyra's Temple of Baalshamin last week, provide publicity. IS captured the area from Syrian government forces in May.

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In July, IS beheaded archeologist Khaled al-Assad, who was Palymra's head of antiquities for more than 40 years.

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