Syria's army reports retaking ancient Palmyra from militants

Posted Mar 27, 2016 by Nathan Salant
Reports from Lebanon say regular Syrian Army forces have driven Islamic State fighters out of the ancient city of Palmyra.
Syrian pro-government forces rest next to the Palmyra citadel
Syrian pro-government forces rest next to the Palmyra citadel
Maher Al Mounes, AFP
The reports, if true, would be a major defeat for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group, which has been carving its own territory out of major portions of Syria and Iraq for the past few years.
Islamic State fighters had seized the historic city, valued for its Roman ruins, and destroyed many historic buildings last year out of fealty to the group's vision of an independent state governed by Islamic law, according to the Reuters news service.
But Syrian forces drove the militants out in a three-month operation, backed by Russian air power supporting the Assad government in Damascus.
The independent Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that clashes between the army and IS forces were continuing on the eastern edge of Palmyra near the airport and the prison.
But the majority of IS fighters were retreating east under bombardment from Russian and Syrian jets, Reuters said.
Syria's army released a statement saying it had restored security to Palmyra and said its success showed that the IS group was collapsing under army pressure.
"Palmyra has been liberated," Syria's antiquities chief, Mamoun Abdelkarim, told Reuters.
"This is the end of the destruction in Palmyra," he said.
Pictures broadcast on Syria's state-run television from Palmyra showed deserted streets and badly damaged buildings, Reuters said.
The government victory at Palmyra appears to open up Syria's eastern desert from the Iraqi border to Deir al-Zor to Raqqa, Reuters said.
Abdelkarim said many of Palmyra's ancient Roman landmarks were still standing and damaged structures would be restored.
"How many times did we cry for Palmyra, how many times did we feel despair," Abdelkarim asked.
"But we did not lose hope," he said.
Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman said 400 IS fighters were killed in the battle for Palmyra, the group's biggest single defeat since 2014.
Losses of Syrian and other allied soldiers were put at 180, Reuters said.