City reclaimed by Syria in March falls after Russian attempt to beat back assault
The Syrian city emblematic of the Islamic State group’s threat to cultural treasures in the Middle East has fallen into the terrorist group’s hands once again.
State media in Syria quoted the governor of the province of Homs, where Palmyra is located, as saying the army had pulled out of the city, a statement that seemed to confirm ISIS’s claims that it has recaptured the ancient ruins and its environs, nine months after it was liberated. Reports of Palmyra’s fall also surfaced over the weekend through the Great Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian rebels claimed that the Assad regime had to reduce defenses of Palmyra in order to focus on recapturing Eastern Aleppo, according to Reuters. The wire service said Palmyra fell in spite of dozens of Russian airstrikes aimed at pushing back the Islamist militants.
“The army is using all means to prevent the terrorists from staying in Palmyra,” Homs Governor Talal Barazi was quoted as saying.
Barazi later said militants had brought in reinforcements from their de facto capital of Raqqa and from Deir Zor province in eastern Syria bordering Iraq, Reuters reported.
Amaq, a news agency linked to Islamic State, said the militants had captured the ancient Crusader Castle that overlooks the city and were back in control of Palmyra.
ISIS launched a surprise advance on the city on Thursday, taking control of nearby oil and gas fields and pushing toward the T4 airbase, one of Syria’s largest, which is used by Russian forces, the Observatory said, according to Reuters. Russian airstrikes, reportedly killing 300 militants, tried to hold the group off, but more than 4,000 ISIS militants launched a second assault on Sunday, according to Russian news agencies, quoting Moscow’s monitoring center in Syria.
ISIS has been beaten back in places like Iraq’s Nineveh Plain in recent weeks, but are putting up a fight in Mosul. Their retaking of Palmyra sends a signal that it remains a resilient force, said the Washington Post.
The group ruled [Palmyra] with an iron fist, repurposing an iconic amphitheater as a stage for executions and enacting brutal punishments against residents who broke laws it imposed.
UNESCO describes Palmyra this way:
An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.