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Syrian government troops set to recapture Palmyra

The Syrian army has seized control of parts of Palmyra from the Islamic State. Government forces, backed by Russian military support, have been battling ISIS militants to reach the historic city.

Published: March 2, 2017, 8:36 am

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    A Syrian military official reportedly told German news agency DPA that recapturing Palmyra “is a matter of time”.

    “There is a big collapse in the ranks of Daesh fighters,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “They have abandoned most of their positions around the city.”

    Syrian military forces entered a western neighbourhood of the ancient city on Wednesday, following several weeks of a Russian-backed assault on jihadists. A new Russian trained unit, the 5th corps, is in the lead. With Palmyra regained the Syrian army would be free to move further east towards Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.

    Reports suggest that Assad’s forces now fully control part of the western and north-western city outskirts, as well as the airport in the eastern part of the city.

    Palmyra is a UNESCO site, but its ancient heritage has largely been wiped out by ISIS militants that first seized the city in May 2015 and began systematically destroying its ancient monuments and temples, and looting its many treasures. The jihadist group also carried out mass executions in the city’s Roman theatre.

    The destruction of the city’s famed triumphal arch, the temple of Bel, was described by UNESCO as “an intolerable crime against civilization”.

    The Syrian army drove ISIS out of Palmyra in March 2016 but jihadists recaptured the town last December while the Syrian was focused on gaining full control of Aleppo in northern Syria.

    Meanwhile south of Al-Bab the Syrian army is moving towards the Euphrates, to cut off the Turkish forces’ path to Raqqa and Manbij. Turkish forces are now blocked from moving further south.

    They would have to fight the Syrian army and their Russian allies to move directly onto Raqqa, blogger Moon of Alabama reported. They would have to fight the Syrian-Kurdish YPG and its US allies to move further east.

    For the first time since the start of the war the supply lines between Turkey and the Islamic State are cut off, the blogger says.

    Notable is also that a director of the Pentagon financed think tank RAND Corporation now publicly argues for better cooperation with Russia in Syria. Andrew Parasiliti, the director of the Center for Global Risk and Security believes: “Safe zones and more US ground forces are significant military escalations and loaded with risk.”

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