IS in Syria destroys part of Roman theater in Palmyra

BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants have destroyed parts of the second-century Roman amphitheater and an iconic monument known as the Tetrapylon in Syria’s historic town of Palmyra, the government and experts said Friday.

It was the extremist group’s latest attack on world heritage, an act that the U.N. cultural agency called a “war crime.” A Syrian government official said he feared for the remaining antiquities in Palmyra, which IS recaptured last month.

Also on Friday, Turkey’s military said IS killed five Turkish soldiers and wounded nine in a bomb attack in northern Syria.

Turkey is leading Syrian opposition fighters in an offensive against the IS-held town of al-Bab in the Aleppo province, a push that has been bogged down since mid-November. Since its military intervention, Turkey has lost 54 soldiers in Syria, most of them in the al-Bab offensive.

After suffering several setbacks in Syria, IS has gone on the offensive– reclaiming ancient Palmyra in December and launching an attack on a government-held city and military air base in Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria.

On Friday, the state news agency SANA said seven civilians were killed when IS shelled a residential area in the city of Deir el-Zour.

However, IS remains under pressure in northern Syria from Turkey and U.S-backed Kurdish forces, as well as in neighboring Iraq where Iraqi troops backed by the U.S.-led coalition are fighting to retake the city of Mosul from the militants.

Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site that once linked Persia, India, China with the Roman empire and the Mediterranean area, has already seen destruction at the hands of the Islamic State group. The ancient town first fell to IS militants in May 2015, when they held it for 10 months. During that time, IS damaged a number of its relics and eventually emptied it of most of its residents, causing an international outcry.

Palmyra fell again to the group last month, only nine months after a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive was hailed as a significant victory for Damascus.

On Friday, Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of Syria’s antiquities department, said reports of the recent destruction first trickled out of the IS-held town late in December. But satellite images of the damage only became available late Thursday, confirming the destruction.