Crucial support from Russian air raids. The Syrian army wants to use the area as a base for operations against Daesh and cut the connecting and supply roads. Moscow announces it will send anti-mine experts. The head of the antiquities states that 80% of the world heritage site remains intact.
Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Syrian army, backed by Russian air raids, continues its offensive against the militias of the Islamic State (IS) after recapturing Palmyra in recent days. The fighting was concentrated around the towns and villages in the north-east and south-west of the ancient city. It fell into the hands of jihadists last year, who have executed the director of antiquities. The jihadists also damaged some temples and relics, filming and posting online their brutality sparking outrage among the international community.
The army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad wants to use the ancient city as a base to launch operations against IS and cut the connecting roads to the jihadists. The military wrested control of the area, after days of intense fighting and the support from Russian fighter jets.
The United States also welcomed the re-conquest of Palmyra, while adding that it is too early to say whether this development will have consequences for the peace negotiations in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations.
Now the Damascus army is targeting the cities of al-Qaryatain, south-west of Palmyra and Sukhnah, to the northeast. An army spokesman added that the local military airport was already reopened. Meanwhile, the Russian fighter jets are carrying out air raids along the road leading to Deir al-Zour, long town under siege by Daesh [Arabic acronym for the IS].
Local sources said that there are still IS militiamen holed up within the city of Palmyra, who have carried out attacks against the Syrian army using car bombs and suicide operations.
Meanwhile, Moscow has announced the dispatch of anti-personnel mine experts and specialized teams to clean up the area around the town and the ruins. Later begin operations to assess the damage to the artistic and archaeological heritage of the area will be carried out although, in a first observation, the damage does not appear to be serious.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of antiquities, told the BBC that more than 80% of the world heritage site is "intact." Of course, restoration work will be needed, he adds, but "in general we are very happy because I was afraid of more serious disasters." Soon, he concludes, a Unesco summit will be held to prepare a strategy for the city.
Analysts and experts point out that the loss of Palmyra is one of the biggest setbacks suffered by the IS since the beginning of the advance in Syria and Iraq, in the summer of 2014. Even Syrian President Assad commented on the operation, calling it a " important result "in the" fight against terrorism” adding that it would have been an "impossible" operation without Russian support.
The war in Syria flared up in March 2011 as a popular protest against President Bashar al-Assad and turned into widespread conflict with extremist tendencies and Islamic Jihad, so far claiming over 260 thousand lives. It sparked one of the most serious humanitarian crisis in history, forcing 4.6 million Syrians to seek shelter abroad, especially in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Hundreds of thousands have tried to reach Europe, at times at the cost of their lives crossing the Mediterranean. The total number of displaced persons (internal and migrants) exceeds 10 million.