Palmyra: Backed by Russian forces, Syrian troops recaptured the famed ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State militant group today in a major victory over the jihadists.
Syrian television quoted a military source saying the army and its militia allies took ‘complete control over the city of Palmyra’. "After heavy fighting during the night, the army is in full control of Palmyra -- both the ancient site and the residential neighbourhoods," the source said.
Army sappers were defusing mines and bombs planted by ISIS in the city's ancient ruins, a UNESCO world heritage site where the jihadists sparked a global outcry with the systematic destruction of treasured monuments.
For Syria government forces, the recapture of Palmyra, following a three-week campaign, opens up much of Syria's eastern desert stretching to the Iraqi border to the south and ISIS heartland of Deir al-Zor and Raqqa to the east. Russian forces, which intervened in support of longtime ally Assad last September, have been heavily involved in the offensive to retake Palmyra despite a major drawdown last week.
ISIS overran the Palmyra ruins and adjacent modern city in May 2015. It has since blown up two of the site's treasured temples, its triumphal arch and a dozen tower tombs, in a campaign of destruction that UNESCO described as a war crime punishable by the International Criminal Court.
The jihadists used Palmyra's ancient amphitheatre as a venue for public executions, including the beheading of the city's 82-year-old former antiquities chief.
The oasis city's recapture is a strategic as well as symbolic victory for President Bashar al-Assad, since it provides control of the surrounding desert extending all the way to the Iraqi border.
On Thursday, the Iraqi army announced the launch of an offensive to recapture second city Mosul, held by the jihadists since June 2014. ISIS lost at least 400 militants in the battle for Palmyra, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.
"That's the heaviest losses that ISIS has sustained in a single battle since its creation in 2013,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that ‘it is a symbolic defeat for ISIS comparable with that in Kobane’.
According to Russian Defence Ministry, its warplanes conducted more than 40 combat sorties in just 24 hours from Friday to Saturday, targeting 158 terrorist positions.
With Agency Inputs