The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has planted explosives in the ruins of the central Syrian city of Palmyra, a monitoring group claimed Sunday.
Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, had attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors annually before the start of Syria’s bloody civil war. The militants seized the strategically important nearby modern town of Tadmur from government forces last month.
Syria’s director-general of antiquities and museums Maamoun Abdulkarim says he’s received reports of the explosives at a temple site.
The BBC reports that airstrikes have been launched in residential areas of Palmyra (parts of the city is still occupied by civilians) over the past three days, killing 11 people.
The al-Watan daily reported on Monday that the army has intensified its operations against the Takfiri ISIL group in Palmyra and its vicinity, making “tangible progress” in the area of west Biyarat.
“It is unknown whether they have mined the city in order to destroy the antiquities or to prevent the regime forces from getting advance towards the city”, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on its website.
“I hope that these reports are not correct, but we are anxious”.
ISIS has released several videos documenting its destruction of heritage sites in Iraq and Syria.
In the jihadists’ extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols and shrines amount to recognising objects of worship other than God and must be destroyed.
The Palmyra theatre, one of the jewels of the site.
IS overran Palmyra on 21 May, sparking fears that the radical group might repeat the sort of vandalism it has carried out in Iraq and destroy one of Syria’s most famous archaeological sites.
“The Islamic State is shifting its attention to the weakened Syrian government at the expense of losing territory to the Kurds in northern Syria”, said Firas Abi-Ali, head of Middle East analysis for IHS.