ISIL recaptures ancient city of Palmyra in Syria

After a sudden government withdrawal from Palmyra, ISIL militants made a lightning-fast advance across the town, sparking new worries for remaining ancient treasures at its Unesco World Heritage site.

French soldiers fire at ISIL positions in Iraq. Reinforcements were sent to Mosul last week after an ISIL counterattack drove troops back, slowing a nearly two-month-old offensive to retake it. The extremists also made an advance in Syria, retaking Palmyra. Manu Brabo / AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

ALEPPO // Syrian forces pushed forward in Aleppo on Sunday as thousands fled rebel-held areas, but they lost ground to the south where ISIL recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra.

After a sudden government withdrawal from Palmyra, ISIL militants made a lightning-fast advance across the town, sparking new worries for remaining ancient treasures at its Unesco World Heritage site.

Since mid-November, forces loyal to president Bashar Al Assad have been focused on the second city of Aleppo, where they have retaken more than 85 per cent of the formerly rebel-held east.

On Sunday, they pounded the shrinking rebel enclave in south-east Aleppo with artillery and air strikes, seizing the Maadi district and several other neighbourhoods, an opposition monitoring group said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 10,000 people had fled the remaining rebel-held districts since midnight, heading for government-held west Aleppo and newly retaken areas in the city’s north and centre.

An estimated 120,000 people have poured out of east Aleppo since late November, according to the Observatory.

State news agency Sana said that on Sunday alone, at least 8,000 people had fled rebel districts through several government-run crossings.

Approximately half were transferred to temporary shelters, it added, while the rest were staying with relatives in western Aleppo.

US and Russian officials were expected to continue talks in Geneva Sunday on trying to reach a ceasefire in Aleppo, but intense diplomatic efforts over the past week have failed to stem the fighting.

Russian raids overnight on Saturday to Sunday bolstered Syrian soldiers fighting off an ISIL offensive on Palmyra, in central Syria.

But the militants launched a fresh attack on Sunday, the Observatory said, recapturing all of the town after government forces pulled out.

“Despite the ongoing air raids, IS retook all of Palmyra after the Syrian army withdrew south of the city,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

He said ISIL was “combing the city” for any remaining Syrian soldiers.

The ISIL-linked Amaq news agency said the group regained “full control” of the city after taking the citadel overlooking Palmyra from a strategic hilltop.

Capturing Palmyra from ISIL in May was considered a major symbolic victory for Mr Al Assad’s forces – and for its Russian ally.

* Agence France-Presse