Saints’ bones among rubble of Syrian monastery destroyed by Isil

Saints’ bones among rubble of Syrian monastery destroyed by Isil

The destroyed stone sarcophagus of Syriac Catholic Saint Elian
The destroyed stone sarcophagus of Syriac Catholic Saint Elian at the entrance to his monastery in the town of al-Qaryatain in the province of Homs in central Syria CREDIT: AFP

Bones of Christian saints have been uncovered in the remains of a Syrian monastery blown up by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants last year.

Reporters published footage and photos from Mar Elian monastery as they entered the town of Al-Qaryatain yesterday, after it was recaptured by Syrian government forces.

The bones of Christian saints in the rubble of St Eliane monastery in . blew it up last August.

The remains of revered religious figures appear to have been thrown into a room along with empty cardboard boxes, clay pots and rubbish as part of Isil’s attempt to destroy the monastery, which they blew up and bulldozed in August 2015 shortly after capturing territory in Homs Province.

Isil bulldozed Mar Eliane after capturing it in August 2015
Isil bulldozed Mar Eliane after capturing it in August 2015

 “The bones of Christian saints rested in peace for hundreds of years , before Islamic State came to the monastery of Saint Elian”, reported Lindsey Hilsum, who was in the town reporting for Channel Four.

The rubble of St Eliane monastery in , destroyed by, recaptured by govt forces yesterday.

Other bones appear alongside broken blocks bearing Christian crosses and piles of rubble remain scattered across the religious site, one mile from Al-Qaryatain town centre.

The monastery was first established more than 1,500 years ago and was named after a third century Christian from Homs who was killed by his father, a Roman officer, for refusing to renounce his faith. It had been restored just 10 years ago with help of an Italian priest, who had re-established another monastery, Mar Musa, near Damascus.

Mar Eliane had been renovated just 10 years before it was destroyed by Isil 
Mar Eliane had been renovated just 10 years before it was destroyed by Isil 

The terrorist group destroyed Mar Elian, “on the pretext that it was used for worshipping others than God”, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said in 2015. At the time, Isil also captured hundreds of Christians, some of whom were later freed, and desecrated the graveyard where monks had been buried.

The terrorist group may have used parts of the monastery left undestroyed for storage and sleeping.

Mar Elian monastery
Mar Elian monastery appears ravaged after heavy fighting between Syrian Army and the Islamic State group in Qaryatain, Syria CREDIT: AP

A Syrian government colonel told Hilsum that Isil had used monks’ former living quarters to gather gas canisters for making IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Footage showed metal containers next to cabinets and tables inside the monastery. He said the terrorist group sometimes filled animals with explosives to create detonation devices.

“You come somewhere like this, and think about the way Islamic State operates – the targets they choose, someone else’s religion – and that is horrific”, Hilsum said.

The destroyed monastery of Syriac Catholic Saint Elian
The destroyed monastery of Syriac Catholic Saint Elian CREDIT: AFP

 But she stressed that the majority of the damage caused in Syria over the five-year war has been caused by government forces and their allies.

Although Isil claimed responsibility for destroying Mar Eliane, Russian and Syrian Army bombardment has wreaked havoc in Al-Qaryatain itself.

“To retake the town of  Al-Qaryatain, Syrian government troops destroyed it”, reported Hilsum, who spoke to regime troops in the town.

Images showed blow-out and blackened buildings, the result of airstrikes that had reportedly taken place in their dozens in recent days.

Total destruction in , some by , some by and Russian bombardment. Govt in control of rubble.

Before the war, Christians and Sunni Muslims had lived side by side in Al-Qaryatain , which had also been home to Greco-Roman ruins.

The recapture of the town comes days after Syrian government troops also took Palmyra and the ruins known as the “Pearl of the Desert” from Isil. It represents an important strategic gain, as it cuts one of the terrorist group’s supply routes.

“It is emblematic of a war which in any battle,  the winner not only takes, but destroys all,” said Hilsum.

 

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