Thursday, 21 January, 2016

Oldest monastery in Iraq destroyed

Fighting Falcon in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Fighting Falcon in support of Operation Inherent Resolve
Dana Christensen | 21 January, 2016, 01:33

For 1400 years, St. Elijah's Monastery in Iraq served as a place of worship for Christians, weathering onslaughts by man and time.

In earlier millennia, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches, prayed in the chapel, worshipped at the altar.

In Irbil, Iraq, Catholic priest Father Paul Thabit Habib, 39, was shocked by the images. Shaken, he flipped back to his own photos for comparison.

"Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically levelled", he said in Arabic. "We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land".

There are more than 100 religious artefacts and sites destroyed by the terrorist group so far - including all manner of tombs, mosques, churches and shrines all across the so-called "caliphate" the group proclaimed in Syria and Iraq.

The extremists have defaced or ruined ancient monuments in Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra and bulldozed a monastery in Homs. Museums and libraries have been looted, books burned, artwork crushed - or trafficked.

Rev Boji said: "A big part of tangible history has been destroyed". Many churches have been destroyed along with paintings and statues. Iraq's Christian population has dropped from 1.3 million then to 300,000 now, church authorities say. ISIS continues to threaten key heritage sites along the Libyan coast, such as Sabratha, Leptis Magna and Cyrene, as their influence in the North African country steadily grows. "It's very sad and dramatic". But U.S. military chaplains are trying to protect the site as best they can during wartime.

Had it not been for these satellite images, we would probably not have learnt about the monastery's destruction.

Suzanne Bott, who was a member of the restoration team, said: "It's just razed completely".

"I let that moment sink in, the candlelight, the first rays of sunshine". This footage shows U.S. troops celebrating Easter 2009 at the site.

Stephen Wood of Allsource Analysis told AP that the satellite images published on Wednesday suggested the monastery was destroyed between August and September 2014, two to three months after IS captured Mosul and ordered Christians who had not already fled to leave.

Before it was razed, a partially restored, 27,000-square-foot stone and mortar building stood fortress-like on a hill above Mosul.

New satellite images confirm that the ancient stone walls "have been literally pulverized", likely with the use of bulldozers and perhaps explosives. And that is why they have targeted minorities and destroyed their places of worship. "There's nothing to rebuild". In 2003 St Elijah's shudderedas a wall was smashed by a tank turret blown off in battle.

As NPR's Eric Westervelt reported in 2008, some of the damage the troops were working to fix was inflicted by USA forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

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