Syr­ian troops re­take bat­tered Palmyra

Syr­ian army routs ex­trem­ists in Palmyra

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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

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