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Islamic State militants 'destroy ancient tombs' in Syrian city of Palmyra

Published 04/09/2015

(FILES) A picture taken on January 13, 2009 shows an aerial view of a part of the world-renowned ancient city of Palmyra. AFP/Getty Images
(FILES) A picture taken on January 13, 2009 shows an aerial view of a part of the world-renowned ancient city of Palmyra. AFP/Getty Images
(FILES) A picture taken on January 13, 2009 shows an aerial view of a part of the world-renowned ancient city of Palmyra and some of its tower tombs (bottom L). AFP/Getty Images
Tower tombs are a particular feature of the Syrian city of Palmyra

Islamic State militants have destroyed three ancient tower tombs in the Syrian city of Palmyra, according to a government official in charge of antiquities.

Tower tombs, built on high grounds, are a particular feature of the Roman-era city.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, said the militants had destroyed tower tombs including the Elahbel tower, which dates back to 103 AD.

He said the destruction took place before the militants destroyed the two-millennia-old temple of Bel on Sunday, confirmed by UN satellite images.

The smaller Temple of Baalshamin was also destroyed days before, and the group posted images of the damage.

The militants claim ancient relics and sites of worship promote idolatry.

Mr Abdulkarim said his information was based on witness accounts and satellite images provided by the Boston-based American Schools of Oriental Research.

The ASOR Syrian Heritage Initiative said the IS group has destroyed seven tower tombs since the end of June over two phases. The last round of destruction occurred between August 27 and September 2, including the Tower of Elahbel, the most prominent example of Palmyra's distinct funerary monuments. Earlier, the tomb of Iamliku and Atenaten were also destroyed.

"Collectively, the damage to these tombs is not confined to a single area within the Valley of the Tombs, but instead it is distributed throughout various locations, leaving some towers destroyed and others still standing," the report said, showing a sequence of satellite imagery with the sites before and after the damage. "The reasoning for this differentiation is unknown."

The UN cultural agency UNESCO called the destruction of Palmyra an "intolerable crime against civilisation".

Meanwhile, IS posted pictures on social media apparently showing a town hall-style meeting in the central town of Qaryatain with local Christians.

The pictures showed the residents sitting in the meeting and some signing a contract forcing them to pay special taxes for non-Muslims.

The contract, dated Sunday, also says they must abide by Islamic laws and regulations imposed by the group, refrain from building new churches and hide their religious symbols, to be allowed to continue to live in Qaryatain.

Thousands of the town's residents, a mixed population of Sunni Muslims and Christians, fled after IS militants overran it earlier this month. The group abducted 230 residents, including dozens of Christians, from Qaryatain, which lies in the middle of a triangle formed by the cities of Homs, Palmyra and Damascus.

Activists say some Christians were released, though the fate of the others is unknown.

Christians in the militant stronghold of Raqqa, which IS seized last year, were forced to pay special protection taxes as well.

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