Syria army ad­vances on ISIS in Palmyra

Ob­ser­va­tory says regime forces could en­ter an­cient city at any mo­ment

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - SYRIA & IRAQ -

BEIRUT: Syr­ian army troops backed by war­planes ad­vanced to within sev­eral kilo­me­ters of Palmyra Thurs­day, bat­tling ISIS fight­ers out­side the famed an­cient city, a mon­i­tor said.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said gov­ern­ment troops were now some 5 kilo­me­ters west of the city and en­gaged in fierce clashes with forces from the ex­trem­ist group.

“Regime forces could en­ter the city at any mo­ment, they are not far away and the area be­tween them and the city is desert,” Ob­ser­va­tory di­rec­tor Rami Ab­del-Rah­man said.

The Bri­tain-based mon­i­tor said the fight­ing was ac­com­pa­nied by in­ten­sive regime airstrikes on the city of Palmyra, which is famed for its an­cient ru­ins, a UNESCO World Her­itage site.

The group said civil­ians in Palmyra were flee­ing the aerial bom­bard­ment, which has in­ten­si­fied in re­cent days.

There was no im­me­di­ate toll in the fight­ing or the airstrikes, which have gen­er­ally tar­geted the residential part of Palmyra, not its an­cient sec­tor.

ISIS-af­fil­i­ated media claimed that at least 10 regime sol­diers had been killed and three tanks dis­abled or de­stroyed dur­ing the clashes, while anti-regime ac­tivists from the city also re­ported that the army was ap­proach­ing the city.

In Damascus, a se­cu­rity source con­firmed the army had ad­vanced to within sev­eral kilo­me­ters of Palmyra.

“Yesterday, the army was able to make sig­nif­i­cant progress in ad­vanc­ing to­ward the city,” he said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity.

“Fight­ing is con­tin­u­ing be­tween the army and ISIS,” he added.

Of­fi­cial news agency SANA said air raids hit ISIS po­si­tions in Palmyra as well as on the out­skirts of the Shaar gas field and other ar­eas in Homs province.

ISIS forces over­ran Palmyra on May 21, af­ter sweep­ing to­ward the city from their strongholds in eastern Deir al-Zor and north­ern Raqqa.

Their cap­ture of Palmyra raised in­ter­na­tional con­cerns they might de­stroy the city’s an­cient ru­ins, as they have in other places in Syria and Iraq. Though ISIS fight­ers have re­port­edly de­stroyed at least one statue, no dam­age to the ru­ins has been re­ported.

How­ever, the group car­ried out at least one mass ex­e­cu­tion of gov­ern­ment sol­diers in Palmyra’s famed an­cient theater later pub­lish­ing footage of the killings online.

In Washington, the White House’s nom­i­nee to be­come the next chair­man of the joint chiefs of staff played down the dan­ger to the United States posed by ISIS, say­ing that Rus­sia and China rep­re­sented greater “threats.”

Speak­ing dur­ing his Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, Marine Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, stressed the need to un­der­take a long-term bat­tle against ISIS ex­trem­ists.

Dun­ford de­clined to give spe­cific time frames or de­tails on what an anti-ISIS ef­fort would like un­der his lead­er­ship, com­ment­ing that the group’s pres­ence in Iraq would re­quire a mul­ti­year ef­fort that deals with sev­eral key po­lit­i­cal un­der­ly­ing as­pects.

In Aleppo, at least 19 civil­ians, in­clud­ing five chil­dren, were killed by a regime bar­rel-bomb at­tack and rebel rocket fire, the Ob­ser­va­tory said.

Fif­teen of the civil­ians, among them four of the chil­dren and a preg­nant woman, were killed in a bar­rel bomb strike Wed­nes­day evening on a rebel-held dis­trict of the di­vided north­ern city, it said.

“The chil­dren were aged un­der 10,” Ob­ser­va­tory chief Rami Ab­del-Rah­man said.

The crude ex­plo­sives-filled con­tainer hit a build­ing in the north­east­ern neigh­bor­hood of Karam al-Beik as res­i­dents were sit­ting down for if­tar.

An AFP jour­nal­ist saw men scream­ing as they car­ried the life­less body of a boy out of the partly col­lapsed build­ing be­fore cov­er­ing him with a makeshift shroud.

Another group brought a dazed el­derly man out of the rub­ble.

The res­cue teams, wear­ing hard hats with head­lamps at­tached, strug­gled to pick through the rub­ble in the dark­ness, some us­ing picks or just their hands to search for sur­vivors.

The other four civil­ians were killed by rebel rocket fire on the gov­ern­ment-held dis­trict of Mi­dan later Wed­nes­day evening, the Ob­ser­va­tory said.

Twenty peo­ple were also wounded, the Bri­tain-based Ob­ser­va­tory said. – Agen­cies, with The Daily Star

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