Drone footage shows fresh ISIL destruction in Palmyra

Extremists recaptured historic Syrian city in December, nine months after Russian-backed government forces drove them out.

This photo combo, made from footage taken from the Russian defence ministry website, shows the Roman-era amphitheatre at Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra on June 6, 2016, top, and on February 5, 2017, below. Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP
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Moscow // Russia’s military on Monday released drone footage showing that ISIL has carried out more destruction at Palmyra since recapturing the Unesco world heritage site in December.

The black-and-white video dated February 5 shows part of the Roman amphitheatre reduced to rubble and the tetrapylon, a 16-column structure that marked one end of the ancient city’s colonnade, wiped out.

“The pictures clearly show that the terrorists blew up the proscenium – the central part of the ancient Roman theatre – and the columns of the tetrapylon,” the Russian defence ministry said.

Before being forced out of Palmyra in a Russian-backed offensive in March, ISIL razed world-famous temples and tower tombs at the site.

ISIL fighters recaptured Palmyra some nine months later as the Syrian regime and its allies focused on recapturing the eastern half of Aleppo city from rebels.

Artillery and air strikes killed hundreds of civilians in rebel-held Aleppo, and Human Rights Watch said on Monday that the regime had also carried out at least eight chemical attacks in the final weeks before the rebels were defeated.

The rights group said witness accounts, photos and video footage indicated that government helicopters dropped chlorine bombs from November 17 to December 13, killing nine people including four children.

The Syrian government and the opposition are now preparing for a new round of UN-brokered peace talks from February 23 in Geneva, aimed at ending a nearly six-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.

Kazakhstan is hosting a two days of preparatory talks later this week between government and opposition officials, as well as delegates from regime allies Russia and Iran and rebel backer Turkey.

The Syrian government said on Monday it was ready to release prisoners in exchange for civilians or troops held by insurgents. Last week the government and rebels exchanged dozens of people, including women and children who were held by rebels for years.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse