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IS retakes Palmyra after Syria army withdrawal

The Islamic State jihadist group recaptured Palmyra on Sunday after Syrian armed forces pulled out of the desert city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“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.

The jihadists made a lightning-fast advance across the city after overrunning a northern neighbourhood and capturing the famed citadel to Palmyra’s west. The IS-linked Amaq news agency also reported that IS regained “full control” of the city today after taking the citadel, which overlooks Palmyra from a strategic hilltop. IS launched an offensive last week near Palmyra, a renowned UNESCO World Heritage site. It seized oil and gas fields before making a major push into the desert city yesterday, sparking new worries for Palmyra’s remaining ancient treasures.

But a fierce Russian bombing campaign killed scores of IS fighters and forced others to withdraw at dawn on Sunday. “Intense Russian raids since last night forced IS out of Palmyra, hours after the jihadists retook control of the city,” said the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman. “The army brought reinforcements into Palmyra last night, and the raids are continuing on jihadist positions around the city,” he told AFP. In a statement issued in Moscow, the defence ministry said Russian warplanes conducted 64 air strikes against “positions, convoys and advancing reserves of militants” in Palmyra.

“Over the past night, Syrian government troops with active support of the Russian air force thwarted all terrorist attacks on Palmyra,” it said in a statement.

“The attacking militants actively used car bombs with suicide bombers, armoured vehicles and rocket artillery,” it said, adding that the strikes killed more than 300 militants and destroyed 11 tanks and 31 vehicles. Russia has carried out a bombing campaign in Syria in support of its ally President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.
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