Russian, Syrian forces retake formerly IS-held Palmyra
Allies Russia and Syria have completely retaken the Islamic State-held Palmyra, ending the second occupation of the city by the IS, officials said. Post heavy shelling and clashes on March 1, the IS withdrew after planting mines in several areas. Forces entered deep into the city afterwards. During their first occupation, the IS destroyed many iconic structures in the city.
Islamic State militants have reportedly retaken Syria's historic city of Palmyra following days of intense fighting on the outskirts prompting a withdrawal of Syria's military. An IS-affiliated news channel claimed victory in the battle with the army saying its "soldiers" had reclaimed control over Palmyra. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - a war monitoring organization - confirmed the same.
Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site, boasts 2000-year-old Roman-era colonnades and artifacts; it's called the "Bride of the Desert." It was the hub of caravan trails that carried spices and silks from Eastern Asia to the Mediterranean. It prospered during the Hellenistic period and later became a part of the Roman Empire. It was the top tourist attraction before the Syrian Civil War began.
ISIS was forced out of Palmyra in May'16 by a joint campaign by the Syrian and Russian military. However, most residents didn't return to Palmyra even after the government retook it. According to estimates, the city is now home only to a few hundred families.
Palmyra has had "darker associations" in more recent times. Tadmur prison (demolished by IS) where thousands of opponents of President Assad were tortured was in Palmyra. IS destroyed the Temple of Bel and the Temple of Baalshamin. They blew up "Arch of Triumph" built under the Roman emperor Septimius Severus during 193-211 AD. However, about 80% of the ancient ruins are reportedly intact.
Sources have stated that the ISIS militants who retook Palymra may have got access to heavy weaponry including air-defence systems. US commander Lieutenant general Stephen Townsend said the weapons they got "includes some armoured vehicles and various guns and other heavy weapons, possibly some air-defence equipment." The development is alarming for anti-ISIS forces as this strengthens the IS position in Palmyra.
At least 12 people were executed by IS in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in front of crowds of men and children. Those executed included teachers, Free Syrian Army rebels and Syrian government soldiers, the Palmyra Monitor said. "There are now fears that ISIS may carry out more executions of civilians who were arrested after it took control of the city," it added.
Syrian officials said IS militants have destroyed part of the ancient Roman amphitheatre located in Palmyra. This comes a day after IS conducted executions at the amphitheatre site. The UNESCO-listed archaeological site was recaptured by IS from Syrian government troops in December. IS was ejected from Palmyra by a Russian-backed offensive in March 2016. IS has destroyed monuments in Palmyra in the past also.