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The ancient ruins of Palmyra, Syria

ISIS retakes Palmyra after suffering defeat in Aleppo

ISIS has retaken the legendary city of Palmyra 200 kilometers to the southeast of Aleppo, from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) on Sunday after assembling a massive jihadist fighting force in eastern Homs.

Published: December 12, 2016, 8:20 am

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    While the Syrian military is cleaning up Aleppo, after having taken a major district in the besieged city over the weekend, they have retreated from historic Palmyra.

    Syrian officials told RadioFreeEurope that they had evacuated more than 80 percent of the citizens of Palmyra ahead of the withdrawal.

    Recently, the SAA deployed the bulk of its elite factions in the battle for Aleppo. In the meantime, thousands of ISIS fighters had crossed the border from Iraq, narrowly escaping the battle for Mosul in a spearhead offensive to retake the ancient city Palmyra, Al Masdar News (AMN) reported.

    In addition to capturing Palmyra city itself, the Islamic State also seized Palmyra Airbase, the Hayyan gas field, Al-Dawa village, and the Al-Bayarat area following other territorial gains over the past 48 hours, according to AMN.

    Overpowered by sheer numbers, the local SAA commanders had to choose between a full-scale tactical retreat or leaving outnumbered government troops to be slaughtered by the rapidly advancing jihadist militants. In the face of the onslaught, SAA’s Palmyra command center opted for a retreat.

    Some 5 000 Islamic State insurgents have now poured into Palmyra from several flanks, prompting the SAA withdrawal to the western outskirts of the city.

    A thousand SAA soldiers, including contingents of the National Defence Forces (NDF), the 11th Division, elements of the 18th Division along with the Shaheen Group of the Tiger Forces had been stationed there.

    “The group continued shelling the army positions inside Palmyra with mortars and heavy artillery for hours, causing large losses in the army ranks,” local media activist Abas al-Omar told ARA News.

    “The army withdrew after the clashes reached the city centre and it became impossible for them to push ISIS back,” al-Omar reported, citing a military source within the Syrian army.

    Syrian troops had liberated Palmyra from the destructive grip of ISIS on March 27 this year with assistance from the Russian Aerospace Force. Later on, Russian army engineers took part in the removal of mines from the city’s residential districts and from the unique monuments of antiquity the city is famous for.

    Strategically Palmyra represents a potentially important government salient against besieged government soldiers in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

    The latest assault on the world-renowned archeological sites of Palmyra may be part of the British government’s information warfare in Syria by funding media operations for some rebel fighting groups, as the Syrian opposition has suffered a heavy blow in Aleppo.

    Contractors were hired by the British Foreign Office but overseen by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) effectively run a press office for Syrian opposition fighters, because deciding which factions to support has been “risky for the government”, the Guardian reported and therefore their role had to be concealed, the Guardian reported.

    Through its Conflict and Stability Fund the British government has been spending 3 million euro on private contractors working from Istanbul to deliver “strategic communications and media operations support to the armed opposition”.

    Palmyra is a world heritage site, In February 2015 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2199, condemning the destruction of cultural heritage, while the Rome Statute of 1998, which established the International Criminal Court, allows for the destruction of cultural heritage to be prosecuted as a war crime.

    karin@praag.org

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