DAMASCUS – Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq are engaged in the “most brutal, systematic” destruction of ancient sites since World War II, the head of the UN cultural agency said Friday – a stark warning that came hours after militants demolished a monastery with ancient foundations in central Syria.
The world’s only recourse is to try to prevent the sale of looted artifacts, thus cutting off a lucrative stream of income for the militants, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova told The Associated Press. Recent attacks have stoked fears that IS is accelerating its campaign to demolish and loot heritage sites. On Friday, witnesses said the militants bulldozed St. Elian Monastery which houses a 5th century tomb and served as a major pilgrimage site. Days earlier, IS beheaded an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who had dedicated his life to overseeing the ruins of Palmyra in Syria, one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites.