Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Syrian army retakes town of Palmyra as IS defences crumble

Published:Friday | March 3, 2017 | 3:00 AM
A general view of the ancient ruins of the city of Palmyra, in Homs province, Syria, with the Citadel of Palmyra in the background.

BEIRUT (AP):

Syrian government forces recaptured Palmyra from the Islamic State group yesterday, scoring a victory against the militants who had seized the historic town in December for the second time, a Syrian military statement said.

The military said that troops gained full control of the desert town in central Syria following a series of military operations carried out with the help of Russian air cover and in cooperation with "allied and friendly troops" shorthand for the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group. Hezbollah is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in the civil war.

IS defenses around the town had begun to erode on Sunday, with the government troops reaching Palmyra's outskirts on Tuesday. The SANA news agency reported earlier that government troops had entered the town's archaeological complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, around mid-day, then the town itself, as IS militants fled the area.

This is the government's second campaign to retake the desert town. It seized Palmyra from Islamic State militants last March only to lose it again 10 months later.

Before the civil war gripped Syria in 2011, Palmyra was a top tourist attraction, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year.

The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, had said earlier that Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed by his defence minister that Syrian troops had gained control of Palmyra, with support from Russian warplanes.

The Syrian government's push has relied on ground support from Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group and Russian air cover, according to Hezbollah's media outlets.