Militants in Syria have damaged the Temple of Baal, one of the most important structures in the ancient city of Palmyra, their second attack on the world-renowned ruins in a week, according to local activists and residents.
A loud explosion heard across Palmyra on Sunday damaged the best-preserved structure of the temple, a mostly standing stone building that included the altar, according to Khaled al-Homsi, an activist who recently fled to Turkey.
Mr. Homsi, a Palmyra native, remains in close contact with residents there and uses a nom de guerre for safety. He opposes both the Syrian government and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and he has long worked to document damage to Palmyra’s sprawling archaeological site by all sides in the complex conflict.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, the director of Syria’s antiquities department, told that the reports were being investigated and that, according to his local sources, the explosion took place inside the thick walls of the main building and did not cause the structure to collapse.
“I already appealed and called the world to save Tadmur,” Mr. Abdulkarim added, using another name for the site. “It’s not a political battle, but this is a cultural battle, and everybody should participate in defending this heritage, this civilization.”
The reported damage to the nearly 2,000-year-old Temple of Baal came just a week after the militants, who for three months have held the Palmyra ruins and the modern city with the same name, destroyed another important ancient building there, the nearby Temple of Baalshamin.
The Temple of Baal is an even grander structure. The towering altar building stands on a platform of large stone blocks at the center of a larger plaza encircled by columns and partial walls. No images have surfaced, so it is unclear how much of the altar building or outer walls and columns were damaged.
The entire ancient city of Palmyra, which stands in the desert about 150 miles northeast of Damascus, is a Unesco World Heritage site.
As it has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State has attacked a number of historic sites, blowing up tombs and destroying statues that are forbidden by its extremist interpretation of Islam. Archaeologists and antiquities experts consider the losses to be irreparable.
“I feel very weak, very pessimistic,” Mr. Abdulkarim said last week.
On Monday, he added that among Syria’s many archaeological treasures, the Temple of Baal had special significance for him. “I visited the temple during the crisis,” he said, “and I took many pictures with my daughter, which is something I rarely do.”
He added, “It was an honor to stand in front of this great place.”
Last week, the Islamic State released propaganda images showing its destruction of the Roman-era Temple of Baalshamin. Satellite images in the past several days confirmed that it had been destroyed.
Fighting in the region continued on Sunday, with Islamic State fighters clashing with other militants in southern Damascus. More than two dozen militants were killed in the fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain.
Almost two weeks ago, the militants killed one of the most esteemed caretakers of the ruins. Khalid al-Asaad, 83, the retired antiquities director at Palmyra, was beheaded in a public square, and his body was suspended from a traffic light.
Militants routed government forces to capture Palmyra in May.