Militants from the Islamic State (IS) have begun destroying the ruins of the ancient city of Hatra in northern Iraq.

Hatra, a UNESCO world heritage site, was founded in second or third century BC by the Seleucid Empire and rose to prominence as a religious and trading centre in the first and second centuries AD as part of the Parthian Empire. The ruins were the best preserved example of a Parthian city, with the site’s outer walls stretching for four miles.

The Islamic State sees all shrines and ancient artefacts as false idols, and has launched a systematic campaign of destruction against such sites within the territories it holds in northern Iraq and Syria, an area that spans much of what some historians have described as the “cradle of civilisation”.

In a joint statement, Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, said:

“The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing underway in Iraq.

“This is a direct attack against the history of Islamic Arab cities, and it confirms the role of destruction of heritage in the propaganda of extremists groups.

“With this latest act of barbarism against Hatra, Daesh (IS) shows the contempt in which it holds the history and heritage of Arab people, which had been rightly recognized as a World Heritage site.”

Earlier this week, the group bulldozed another ancient site at the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud.

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