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Islamic State destroys fifth-century monastery in central Syria

1237 Image circulated by Isis purports to show the bulldozing of the Saint Elian monastery. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Photos on social media show bulldozers demolishing ancient Saint Eliane monastery near Qaryatain, which Isis captured in early August.

Islamic State has demolished a monastery founded more than 1,500 years ago in central Syria, near a town where the extremists abducted dozens of Christians earlier this month, activists said.

The destruction of the Saint Elian monastery near the town of Qaryatain comes days after Isis militants in Palmyra publicly beheaded an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who had dedicated his life to studying and overseeing the town’s ancient ruins.

The developments have stoked concerns that Isis may be accelerating its campaign to destroy and loot non-Islamic and pre-Islamic heritage sites inside the swaths of Iraq and Syria it controls.

“I think we are worried about almost all the heritage sites in Syria. Nothing is safe,” said Irina Bokova, director general of Unesco.

The militant group, which captured the Qaryatain area in early August, posted photos on social media on Friday showing bulldozers destroying the Saint Elian monastery.

fighters-335071An image circulated by Isis purporting to show jihadis preparing to destroy the monastery in Qaryatain. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

A Christian clergyman in Damascus said Isis also wrecked a church inside the monastery that dates back to the fifth century. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks atrocities in the Syrian conflict, also reported the destruction of the monastery.

A resident of Qaryatain who recently fled to Damascus called on the UN to protect Christians in Syria, as well as ancient Christian sites. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said militants levelled the shrine and removed the church bells.

Osama Edward, the director of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, told the Associated Press that government shelling of the area had already damaged the monastery over the last two weeks before Isis fighters destroyed it.

“Daesh continued the destruction of the monastery,” said Edward, using an Arabic acronym to refer to Isis. He said the monastery was founded in AD432.

A Christian priest, Jacques Mourad, who lived at the monastery, was kidnapped from the area in May and remains missing. According to Edward, Mourad had welcomed and sheltered both Muslim and Christian Syrians who were fleeing the fighting elsewhere in Homs province.


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