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Palmyra Temple Destruction Is Only Thing That Makes World Notice Annihilation Of Syrian People, Says Expert

31/08/2015 14:36 BST | Updated 31/08/2015 15:59 BST

An expert has questioned why it has taken the demolition of an iconic temple to make the world notice the "shredding" of Syrian society, as she asked people to remember that the so-called Islamic State (IS) is destroying millions of lives as well as the historic temples of the city of Palmyra.

IS, also known as ISIS, have reportedly blown up part of the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel - the "jewel" of the ancient Roman ruins at the Syrian site of Palmyra - according to Syria specialist Diana Darke.

Darke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it was "beyond imagining" that the militant group had demolished some of the temple, which is 50 times larger than Palymera's smaller Temple of Baalshamin which it reduced to rubble last week.

There would be "Syrians weeping all over the country" at the loss of Palmyra, Darke said. But she also said it made her "very angry" that it took the attack on the famous archaeological site to bring the situation in Syria to the world's attention.

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The huge Temple of Bel has reportedly been blown up

"It is a huge problem, and it does make me very angry that it takes the destruction of a temple like this to make everybody focus on what's happening inside Syria, and Syrian's themselves despair of this."

"Syria is being shredded, Syrian society is being shredded and it takes a temple like this to make us all focus on it," she said.

Darke, who has written several books on Syria, stressed that little had been done to improve the situation in the country, which was now an "open wound" contribution to the explosion of migration around Europe.

"It's beyond imagining, and of course the problems from this are leading to the problems that are hitting us in the form of migrants now escaping all of this. it's been left untreated, if you like, like an open wound, for four years."

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A Syrian woman and her son arrive in Greece after fleeing in an inflatable dinghy

More than 11 million Syrians - half the pre-civil war population - have been displaced from their homes in the conflict, according to the UN.

Darke added that Syrians "feel the loss of their cultural heritage".

She said that the explosion at the Bel temple was "such a major blow, on a different order to anything else that's happened, for the whole of Syria."

"There will be Syrians weeping all over the country at the loss of Palmyra. The Temple of Bel is the main jewel of the site. This is beyond imagining."

"I've noticed that it's not even on the Syria state TV network or it's website. It doesn't even know how to report this."

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UNESCO said earlier this month that the destruction of such antiquities was a war crime.

The Bel temple is the site's inner sanctum, filled with neoclassical carvings from the Roman era which have inspired art around the world, according to Darke.

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An image released by IS shows an explosion at the smaller Baalshamin temple

"This is the monumental sacred precinct," Darke explained. "The colonnaded street ends in this huge precinct... It is completely massive. It is so huge that it has been used over the centuries, even as a fortress."

The temple has also been used as a mosque over the years, she said, as well as as a church.

IS took control of the Graeco-Roman ruins north-east of Damascus in May.

In August it beheaded renowned antiquities scholar Khaled al-Asaad in Palmyra, before hanging his mutilated body on a column in a main square of the historic site.

The 82-year-old was said to have been murdered because he refused to reveal where valuable artefacts had been moved for safekeeping.

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Khaled Al-Assad was murdered by the group

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Explosives laid around the historic Baalshamin temple

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Rubble following the blast

Activists, including a Palmyra resident, said an Islamic State bombing extensively damaged the 2,000-year old Bel temple Sunday. The resident described a massive explosion, AP reported, adding that he saw pictures of the damage but could not get near the site.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, said that "undoubtedly" a large explosion took place near the temple, which lies in a sprawling Roman-era complex. But he said the extent of the damage remains unclear.

An unamed Islamic State operative told AP over Skype on Monday that the temple had been destroyed, without elaborating.

"Everybody feared, of course, when the reports first came through in July that they were dynamiting the temples of Bel and Baalshamin that this would go ahead," Drke told Radio 4. "So last week when the much much smaller Baalshamin was blown up, then everybody feared, but hoped of course that it wouldn't happen."