12/12/2016, 18.40
SYRIA
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As Assad’s army seizes Aleppo, Islamic State retakes Palmyra

After a month-long offensive, government forces crush rebel resistance, and now hold 90 per cent of east Aleppo. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, with more than 130,000 displaced. Jihadis retake UNESCO’s world heritage site despite counterattacks by Russian and Syrian forces.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – This morning, the Syrian army retook another important section of rebel-held east Aleppo, in the city’s south-east, and now control 90 per cent of the area Jihadi militias once held for a number of years.

Before the war, Aleppo was Syria’s second largest city, as well as its main economic and commercial hub. After 2012, its western sector, home to 1.2 million people, remained under government control, whilst the eastern sector, with some 250,000 people, fell into the hands of rebel and Jihadi groups.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad took the Sheikh Sa'eed District after a day of fierce fighting.

In less than a month, the army’s offensive, backed by Russian air raids and Iranian and Hezbollah troops, crushed rebel resistance.

Rocket fire and shelling pounded rebel-held areas over night, causing civilian casualties. At least 413 civilians have been killed in east Aleppo since the offensive began on 15 November; another 139 were killed in rebel rocket fire on the city's west.

The intensification of fighting, which threatens to turn the city into a huge graveyard, has already provoked a mass exodus among residents. In the last 24 hours alone, at least 10,000 civilians fled the eastern sector, bringing the total number of displaced since the start of the offensive to 130,000.

If government loyalists now seem poised to bring the whole of Aleppo under President Assad’s control, in Palmyra – one of the symbols of Jihadi devastation in Syria – Islamic State (IS) forces have made a comeback after nine months.

Last Friday (10 December), IS retook the city despite Russian air support for Syrian troops. IS responded with artillery fire and suicide attacks.

With Jihadis now controlling city, government troops have been regrouping outside to prepare a counter-offensive. The "army is using all means to prevent the terrorists from staying," said Homs Governor Talal Barazi.

Some experts believe that IS fighters took advantage of the offensive in Aleppo to regain ground in Palmyra, both in town itself and in the nearby UNESCO heritage site, going door to door looking for any remaining forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

IS destroyed a number of monuments, some dating back 2,000 years, and executed the site’s director during its 10-month occupation.

For IS, Palmyra is strategic because it lies close to oilfields.

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