Syrian regime forces 'enter IS-held Palmyra'

Syrian regime forces 'enter IS-held Palmyra'
Pro-government forces, backed by Russian aerial support, have advanced into Tadmur, the ancient city of Palmyra, as Daesh loses grip on its territories.
2 min read
24 March, 2016
Syrian regime forces launched a staunch offensive towards Palmyra this month [AFP]
Pro-government forces advanced into the ancient city of Palmyra on Thursday, paving the way for a major symbolic Syrian regime victory over the Islamic State group, a government channel said.

The state-run news channel Ikhbariya broadcast footage from just outside Palmyra and said government fighters had taken over a hotel district in the west.

A soldier interviewed by the channel said the army and its allies intended to stretch beyond Palmyra.

"We say to those gunmen, we are advancing to Palmyra, and to what's beyond Palmyra, and God willing to Raqqa, the centre of the Daesh gangs," he said, referring to the militant's de facto capital in Syria.

Regime troops backed by Russian air strikes grasped control of areas linking Palmyra to Damascus and Syria's third city Homs, a Syrian security source said earlier.

Palmyra, captured by the militants in May last year, was the scene of intense fighting between government forces and militants as the regime launched its offensive with aerial support from Russia.

At least 26 pro-government troops were killed in the clashes on Monday, according to the London-based monitoring group.

Civilians from the city in Homs province were forced to flee as the battle neared, local activist Rabea al-Sharq told The New Arab.

The oasis city and surrounding desert account for 30,000 square kilometres and would slash IS territory of Syrian land from 40 percent to 30 percent if the militants lose grasp.

The regime's gains comes as the militant group lost 22 per cent of its territories from the start of 2015 onwards. In the past three months, the group has lost 8 percent of its territories in Syria and Iraq, Jane's 360 military analyst reported this week.

But the monitoring group suggests the control over the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site would provide strategic as well as symbolic benefits.

Global concern for Palmyra spiked when the militant group began demolishing parts of its ancient ruins. In September 2015, satellite images showed the Temple of Bel had been destroyed; the Arch of Triumph was blown up the following month.

Meanwhile, a senior level US-Russia meeting on Thursday is expected to push towards a new round of Geneva peace talks.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry will meet with Russian President, Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss Russia's rigidity regarding Assad's fate in Syria's future.