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IS destruction of Palmyra towers confirmed

They are the latest structures to be demolished at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

By Ed Adamczyk
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Palmyra, Syria's Tower of Elabhel was among those destroyed by the Iaslamic State. Photo by A. Herring/Wikimedia
Palmyra, Syria's Tower of Elabhel was among those destroyed by the Iaslamic State. Photo by A. Herring/Wikimedia

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- Three ancient funerary towers in Palmyra, Syria, one dating to 103 A.D., have been destroyed by the Islamic State, Syria's antiquities chief said.

Maamoun Abdul Karim said he received confirmation of their destruction, part of the Islamic State's campaign to destroy evidence of pre-Muslim religious life. Palmyra's two main temples in the UNESCO World Heritage Site complex, including the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, were blown up several days ago.

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The sandstone funerary towers, each several stories high, were located southwest of the Greco-Roman ruins of Palmyra, a city regarded as among the most prominent in the ancient world. The towers were in the Valley of the Tombs, a cemetery for rich families of the era. Each tower contained several sarcophagi for the remains of family members; among those destroyed was the Tower of Elahbel, built in 103 A.D.,which was four stories high and could contain, archeologists believe, up to 300 sarcophagi.

Also lost was Kilot tower, built around 44 A.D., and Lamblichus, built in 83 A.D.

"We obtained satellite images from the U.S.-based Syrian Heritage Initiative, taken on Sept. 2," Karim said, that indicated "the best preserved and most beautiful" of the towers had been demolished.

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UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has called the Islamic State's systematic destruction of Palmyra a "war crime" that serves to "deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history."

The sale of looted antiquities has helped fund IS.

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