By IMOGEN CALDERWOOD
ISIS has released a significant new execution video from the historic city of Palmyra, in the Syrian desert.
Child executioners are shown in the video being forced to brutally slaughter a group of more than 25 regime soldiers.
The video shows the soldiers lined up on their knees on the stage of the Roman amphitheatre, which had formerly been used for an annual festival in the city.
A baying crowd of men and boys gathered in the restored ruin waiting for the slaughter, many wearing military uniforms and headscarves.
Behind each condemned man stands a child executioner, all wearing desert camouflage and brown bandanas, many of whom appear to be no older than 12 or 13 years old.
ISIS fighters can be seen standing or sitting on top of the ancient ruins, watching over the crowd as they wait for the slaughter.
A leader speaks to the audience, in front of an enormous ISIS flag draped across the back of the stage.
ISIS captured the historic city on May 21, and has been systematically destroying the city’s treasured ancient monuments.
The group was accused of executing hundreds of people in and around Palmyra since it swept into the city in May, after a lightning advance across the desert from its stronghold in the Euphrates Valley to the east.
ISIS is known for using children – dubbed ‘caliphate cubs’ – as suicide bombers, soldiers and executioners in their attempts to instill fear across Iraq and Syria.
Authorities fear that the use of children as soldiers and suicide bombers will only increase in the coming months.
Militants have kidnapped more than 500 children in recent weeks, and Iraqi police chiefs fear the children will be brainwashed into joining the ISIS ranks.
The children were snatched from Iraq’s Anbar and Diyala provinces and taken to the group’s bases, so they can be trained for use in ‘terror attacks’, according to Iraqi authorities.
This is not the first such execution in the Roman amphitheatre in the ancient Syrian city.
Executions being carried out in the Palmyra amphitheatre were first reported on May 27 by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, less than a week after ISIS captured the city.
The extremists ‘called people to watch’ the executions of 20 local men in the amphitheatre at the end of May.
The murdered locals were accused of being government supporters, according to a report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He added: ‘ISIS gathered a lot of people there on purpose, to show their force on the ground.’
ISIS reportedly carried out more than 200 executions, including of civilians, in and around Palmyra in the period when it captured the city.
At the time, Syria’s antiquities director Mamoun Abdelkarim said he feared the killings could signal the start of ‘the group’s barbarism and savagery against the ancient monuments of Palmyra’.
‘Using the Roman theatre to execute people proves that these people are against humanity,’ he told AFP.
The Greco-Roman ruins at Palmyra are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city’s capture by ISIS prompted international concerns for the fate of its spectacular ancient treasures.
ISIS has regularly released videos of its mass executions, with slick production and gruesome violence that experts say is a key propaganda tool for the group.
UNESCO has condemned the jihadists’ destruction of antiquities in the Syrian city of Palmyra, describing it as an attempt to strip the people of their heritage in order ‘to enslave them’.
‘These new destructions of cultural goods of the site of Palmyra reflect the brutality and ignorance of extremist groups and their disregard of local communities and of the Syrian people,’ said Irina Bokova, UNESCO director-general.
Among the antiquities lost so far is the Lion Statue of Athena, destroyed at the end of May, which was more than three-metres high.
Also known as the Lion of Al-Lat, it dated back to the first century AD and is one of the most significant treasures to have been destroyed within the city.
The destruction of the lion came just days after ISIS gathered Palmyra’s citizens together and publicly promised not to harm the city’s ancient buildings.
But the fighters insisted that they would ‘pulverise’ any statues they discovered in the city that they believed citizens secretly prayed to.
The limestone statue was discovered in 1977 by a Polish archeological mission at the temple of Al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess.
‘The destruction of funerary busts of Palmyra in a public square, in front of crowds and children asked to witness the looting of their heritage is especially perverse,’ she said.
‘These busts embody the values of human empathy, intelligence and honour the dead… Their destruction is a new attempt to break the bonds between people and their history, to deprive them of their cultural roots in order to better enslave them,’ she added.
She urged action against the ‘manipulation of religion’.
ISIS’s harsh version of Islam considers statues and grave markers to be idolatrous, and the group has destroyed antiquities and heritage sites in territory under its control in Syria and Iraq.
The historic city of Palmyra, which has been described as the ‘Venice of the Sands’, is a vast expanse of Roman ruins in the middle of the Syrian desert.
It was the greatest Roman city in the Middle East, and before the take-over of ISIS, was ranked as one of the 10 best Roman ruins in the world.
But now it has become a stage for ISIS brutality, as pictures emerge of bloodied bodies scattered among the arches and columns that line the city’s streets.
Palmyra’s fall to ISIS has huge resonance in the West because the Unesco World Heritage Site and jewel of the Middle East – which only recently was visited by thousands of tourists every year – could be reduced to rubble at any moment.
Named for the forest of palm trees that flank it, the oasis city has provided refuge for desert-travellers for nearly 4,000 years.
Just 130 miles north-east of the Syrian capital Damascus, the city is a staggering and unique combination of Roman and Middle Eastern architecture.
Some of the treasures of the city include the Temple of Bel, which ranks among the most important buildings of the ancient world and was the religious centre of Palmyra; the elaborately-decorated Triumphal Arch across the city’s main street; and the frescoes at the Hypogeum of the Three Brothers, dating from the second century AD.
But in the eyes of ISIS, the architectural and artistic gems are simply the artefacts of infidels, representing false and offensive idols.
‘It is the birthplace of civilisation,’ Irina Bokova said of the city.
‘It belongs to the whole of humanity and everyone today should be worried about what is happening.’
Kevin Butcher, professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Warwick, added: ‘Like Venice, the city formed the hub of a vast trade network, only with the desert as its sea and camels as its ships.’
The Romans took the site in the first century AD under the Emperor Tiberius.
Soon the city became one of the international market places of the world, with imports and exports across the Empire, as far afield as Hadrian’s Wall in the north, Spain in the west, India in the east and Libya in the south.
Palmyra’s amphitheatre, built soon after a visit from Emperor Hadrian in AD 129, is one of the best examples of the miraculous preservation that is so treasured in the city
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