Syrian troops retake battered Palmyra
Syrian army routs extremists in Palmyra
Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes have driven ISIS from Palmyra, ending the terror group’s 10-month reign of terror over a town whose famed 2,000-year-old ruins once drew tens of thousands of visitors each year.
Government forces had been on the offensive for nearly three weeks to try to retake the central town, known among Syrians as the ‘Bride of the Desert’, which fell to the extremists last May.
Their advance marks the latest in a series of setbacks for ISIS, which has come under pressure on several fronts in Iraq and Syria in recent months.
Gen Ali Mayhoub announced on state TV that the fall of Palmyra “directs a fatal blow to ISIS, undermines the morale of its mercenaries and ushers in the start of its defeat and retreat.”
He said it also lays the ground for further advances toward Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital, and Deir Al Zour.
Troops in Palmyra are now dismantling explosive booby traps planted by ISIS, the station reported. State television and a Britain-based monitoring group later reported that troops captured a military base to the east.
The advance marks a strategic and symbolic victory for the government, which has sought to portray itself as a bulwark against terrorism.
The town was an important juncture on an ISIS supply line connecting its territory in central and northern Syria to the Anbar province in Iraq, where the group also holds territory.
ISIS drove government forces from Palmyra in a matter of days last May and later demolished some of the best-known monuments in its UNESCO world heritage site, including two large temples dating back more than 1,800 years and a Roman triumphal archway.
State TV showed the rubble left over from the destruction of the Temple of Bel as well as the damaged archway, the supports of which were still standing.
It said a statue of Zenobia, the 3rd century queen who ruled an independent state from Palmyra and figures strongly in Syrian lore, was missing. Many of the Roman colonnades, however, were still standing.
The extremists have destroyed a number of historical sites across their self-declared caliphate, viewing such ruins as monuments to idolatry.
Government forces have advanced on a number of fronts in recent months, aided by a Russian air campaign.
Russian jets carried out 40 air sorties near Palmyra in a 24-hour period, hitting 158 targets and killing more than 100 militants, Russia’s defence minister said on Saturday.
This directs a fatal blow to ISIL, undermines the morale of its mercenaries and ushers in the start of its defeat
– General Ali Mayhoub, Syrian army
IN POSITION: A government soldier takes aim from a window inside a damaged palace in Palmyra