Troops in Damascus, supported by the Russians raid, have regained control of a western district of the city and also the main access route. Heavy clashes and shelling ongoing in the area. The jihadists have retreated, but there is a strong risk of suicide bombers.
Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Syrian government forces have entered the historic city-symbol of Palmyra, one of the places where the jihadist devastation was most ruthless in Syria, wresting back control of the militias of the Islamic State (IS). Damascus troops, supported by Russian air strikes, have taken over part of a neighborhood in the western sector of the city.
Last December, the jihadists reassumed control of the area by repelling the Syrian army assault, supported by the Russian air raid, responding with artillery fire and suicide attacks.
In the 10 months between the summer of 2015 and the first months of 2016 the Unesco heritage site of Palmyra, with two thousand years of history was in the IS hands. During that period, Daesh [Arabic acronym for IS] destroyed many monuments and executed the director of antiquities. The area is of strategic importance for the militants because of the many oil fields in the subsurface.
During the occupation militiamen released photos that showed the destruction of some artifacts taken from the complex of Palmyra. Other images showed the explosion of the historic temple of Baal Shamin. In a public execution the IS also beheaded of the site director Khaled al-Assad, who had refused to disclose the place where most of the relics are preserved.
According to reports from the official Sana State news agency, the Syrian government forces have also taken a strategic area known as the "triangle of Palmyra" as well as the most important access route.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an NGO based in London with a dense network of informers in the area, adds that "strong fighting and heavy shelling" is ongoing around the citadel, whose control has changed several times in the past two years. "They are about to take the citadel - he adds - the Islamic state has retreated, but may have left suicide bombers in the area" meaning the government forces must move forward with caution.
In the past the United Nations has condemned the devastation wrought by jihadists in Palmyra, calling it a "war crime".