Islamic State militants have blown up two ancient shrines they consider sacrilegious in Palmyra – the jihadi group said on Tuesday.
The report was the first of any damage being done by the militants to buildings in Palmyra – a 2,000 Unesco world heritage site in central Syria – since they seized control of the city in May. Syrian forces have bombed the city and the militants camped within it since then.
Before and after pictures showed several militants carrying explosives and the shrines – which are not among the city’s monumental Roman-era buildings – reduced to rubble.
News of the destruction in Palmyra emerged as the chief spokesman of Isis issued a call for increased violence during the holy month of Ramadan and called upon Sunnis in Iraq to rise up against what he described as Shia oppression intended to end the Sunni presence in the country.
Isis also released a video apparently showing the brutal killing of men alleged to be spies. In the recording, the men are drowned in a cage submerged in a swimming pool.
Ancient ruins are not statues and so will be spared – Isis commander reportedly tells radio station – amid new humanitarian crisis in the area.
Islamic State has released new footage depicting unscathed ruins in the Syrian city of Palmyra – and activists say the group has promised to spare much of the ancient site – and only destroy statues deemed polytheistic – raising hopes that some of the most magnificent surviving ruins of antiquity may remain intact.
But the human toll of the conflict increased as president Bashar al-Assad’s air force responded to the loss of Palmyra with an unforgiving air campaign that killed more than a dozen civilians on Monday – and appears to have triggered a fresh humanitarian crisis in the area.
The air strikes came after the regime abandoned Palmyra and most of its civilians with Isis at the city gates – after initially saying it had evacuated non-combatants.
Activists and a monitoring group said Isis had used the majestic Roman theatre in Palmyra to execute nearly two dozen pro-Assad foreign fighters on Wednesday. The group held nearly 600 prisoners that Isis said fought alongside the regime. More than 200 people have been killed since the Isis offensive in the area began in mid-May.