Iraq – Syria – Conflict

ISIS Terrorists under Pressure as Syrian Army Troops Advance on Palmyra

ISIS Terrorists under Pressure as Syrian Army Troops Advance on Palmyra
Fri Mar 25, 2016 18:15:15

The Islamic State (ISIS / Daesh) group was under mounting pressure Friday as Syrian troops battled to retake the ancient city of Palmyra and after Iraqi forces began an offensive against the terrorist stronghold of Mosul.

Russian-backed Syrian forces and allied militia advanced to within several hundred meters of Palmyra’s famed ruins, nearly a year after the terrorist takeover of the UNESCO world heritage site.

The gains came after US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin agreed to intensify the drive for a political settlement in Syria.

Palmyra, known as the “Pearl of the Desert,” was overrun by ISIS last May, sparking global concern. The group has since blown up UNESCO-listed temples and looted relics that dated back thousands of years.

“In the southwest, the Syrian army has liberated the district of hotels and restaurants as well as the Valley of the Tombs,” the country’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdelkarim said.

“And in the west, the Syrian army has taken the Syriatel hilltop that overlooks the Mamluk fort built in the 13th century, which is still under ISIS control,” he told AFP.

Syria State television aired live footage showing airstrikes targeting positions near the fort.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, confirmed that Russian and Syrian warplanes were continuing airstrikes in the area.

“The army is now 600 meters from the Temple of Bel, but it is advancing slowly because of mines and above all to protect the city, which is an ancient treasure,” Abdelkarim said.

ISIS claimed in September to have destroyed the Temple of Bel, which UNESCO had described as one of the best preserved and most important first century religious edifices in the Middle East.

A military source confirmed the advance by Syrian troops, adding that a sandstorm that began Thursday evening had reduced visibility.

Palmyra’s recapture would be a major strategic and symbolic victory for President Bashar al-Assad, since whoever holds it also controls the vast desert extending from central Syria to the Iraqi border, AFP reported.

S/SH 11

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