According to Syrian state television, regime military forces have entered the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site ravaged by the Islamic State last year.
After seizing the town last May, Islamic State jihadists “destroyed two 2,000-year-old temples, an arch and funerary towers, provoking global outrage,” as the BBC recalls. UNESCO considers the destruction a war crime.
Syrian media reports the city was retaken with the help of Russian air strikes, displaying images of warplanes and helicopters in action, along with troops and armored vehicles bearing down on the city.
The BBC reports these claims appear to be supported by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said regime forces had to advance slowly because ISIS booby-trapped the city with mines.
The Associated Press reports Syrian reporters embedded with government military forces broadcasting from the entrance to the city, and reporting that “as of midday Thursday, the fighting was concentrated near the archaeological site on the southwestern edge of the town.” Gunfire and explosions could be heard in the background during these segments.
A Syrian soldier had a message for ISIS during one broadcast: “You will be crushed under the feet of the Syrian Arab Army.”
However, the AP quotes other sources who denied the Syrian military has actually entered Palmyra, with one activist claiming those regime media reports were actually coming from an area about three miles outside the city limits, and the local governor saying the army was still preparing its approaches into Palmyra for an “overwhelming victory” that might come within the next 48 hours. Lebanese television news reported that Syrian forces have secured only the western edge of the city.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the AP that Syrian troops and allied Shiite militia are encountering stiff resistance from ISIS, which has lost some 200 militants since the big push to drive them from Palmyra began 17 days ago.