05/18/2015, 00.00
IRAQ - SYRIA
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Islamic State takes Ramadi but withdraws from Palmyra in Syria

The Iraqi prime minister appeals to troops not to retreat and announces the dispatch of Shiite militias in support. But the city is in the hands of the Islamists, who have commandeered tanks and missiles. Pentagon, says the situation remains "fluid". In Syria, a US special forces raid leaves four prominent IS leaders dead. The destruction of the UNESCO heritage averted, thus far.

Baghdad (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Islamic State militias have taken Ramadi, which has been the focus of a bitter battle with the Iraqi army for control of the capital of Anbar province and is just over 100 km from the capital, Baghdad .

Iraqi prime minister Haidar al-Abadi has ordered the armed forces not to retreat and urged them to keep up their battle.  The Pentagon describes the situation as still "fluid" and claims the government army could regain contril over the area.

Meanwhile, in Syria the jihadists have suffered a setback in Syria where the army of President Bashar al Assad has managed to repel the assault on the Unesco archaeological heritage site of Palmyra.

Eye witness accounts speak of a "chaotic" retreat of Iraqi military and police from Ramadi, after days of intense fighting with the Islamic State. The government soldiers have abandoned their positions and the city is now in the hands of jihadists. The city is the capital of Iraq's largest province, Anbar.

In an official statement IS said that its fighters had "purged the entire city." The militants have taken control of a military base equipped with tanks and missiles left behind by fleeing soldiers. Local sources said that the area is under the "total control" of the Islamists and all government troops "have withdrawn".

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi has ordered troops to stay on the ground, adding that is sending in the Shiite militias to support the government army to retake the city. However, most of the soldiers have taken refuge in Khalidiya military base, east of Ramadi. A military spokesman speaking on condition of anonymity said that the battalion was running out of arms and ammunition and would not have been able to repel the onslaught of jihadists.

The loss of Ramadi is a serious setback for the government in Baghdad. For the Pentagon, however, the situation remains "fluid", since " fighting is still ongoing in the city"; the Islamic state has gained an edge, but for the American experts, the situation may soon change.

Meanwhile IS troops have suffered a setback in Syria, in Palmyra, a Unesco world heritage site and among the most important archaeological sites in the Middle East. The jihadists retreated without being able to hit or damage the ruins, as confirmed by the director of antiquities and museums Mamoun Abdulkarim. "There was no damage to the ruins," said the man, adding that "this does not mean that we should not be worried."

In four days of fighting - concentrated in the Syrian city of Tadmur - over 300 people have been killed. According to reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights most of the dead were government soldiers and militiamen, 57 civilians also died in crossfire. Dozens of people have also been executed by militiamen of the Islamic State in the areas where the fighting is taking place.

Experts say the goal of the jihadists is to control the communication routes from Damascus and Homs traveling in an easterly direction. They also aim to target prisons and gas and oil deposits. The archaeological site is a secondary objective but, as happened in Iraq, if it were to fall into their hands they would not hesitate to destroy it as a symbol of paganism.

Also in Syria a US special forces raid killed 32 Islamic state militants, including four leading figures of the so-called Caliphate. These include Abu Sayyaf who was in charge of oil for the IS, the deputy Defense chief and the head of Communications. The operation took place overnight May 15 and aimed at the capture of Abu Sayyaf. The ground operation, one of the few carried out by the US Army in Syria, received the green light from US President Barack Obama.

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