Palmyra: Isis retakes ancient city despite heavy Russian bombing

The new battle for Palmyra comes almost nine months after Isis was first driven out of the city

Adam Withnall
Sunday 11 December 2016 08:42 GMT
Isis fighters attacking the Syrian army on the outskirts of Palmyra on 9 December
Isis fighters attacking the Syrian army on the outskirts of Palmyra on 9 December

Isis has recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra in the face of heavy Russian air strikes and Syrian army resistance, nine months after it was driven from the city.

Monitoring groups the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Palmyra Coordination Committee (PCC) said militants stormed the city in a multi-pronged attack on Sunday afternoon.

Russia earlier said it had helped repel the Isis assault, driving the jihadis back to orchards outside the city and killing 300 militants in the process.

But the Russian Defence Ministry later said the militants had regrouped and launched a second, more successful attempt.

They confirmed statements issued by Isis propaganda outlets claiming control of the city's 2,000 year-old Roman ruins, a Unesco World Heritage site.

The Amaq Agency said in an alert posted to the encrypted messaging service Telegram: "Breaking, Islamic State forces take complete control over Palmyra city."

The new battle for Palmyra comes almost nine months after Isis was driven out of the city at the end of March.

But this was not before they had inflicted widespread damage to the city's ancient Roman structures, including the destruction of the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel.

Militants first overran Palmyra in May 2015, after which they forced residents of the neighbouring modern city Tadmur to live by their brutal interpretation of Sharia law.

The occupation also saw the murder of the city’s 81-year-old director of antiquities, Khaled al-Asaad, and Palmyra's ruins used as the backdrop for a series of gory executions and propaganda videos.

Isis had been advancing on Palmyra since Thursday, when the group launched a surprise attack on the Syrian army and pro-government Shia militias.

Monitors with the PCC said militants approached from “more than one axis” on Saturday, fighting their way into the al-Amiriyah district before targeting the city’s citadel.

The same group reported that Isis had shot down a Syrian government fighter jet in nearby Jazal.

Isis has been mounting a concerted propaganda effort to highlight the campaign as its forces are beaten back in its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.

Amaq released footage on Sunday which appeared to show close-ups of the city's ruins. In videos on Saturday, fighters were shown advancing against the Syrian army through the desert, while clips sent out the previous day showed a huge suicide car bombing hit an army checkpoint on a road approaching the city.

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