Nearly 300 dead in battle for Syria’s ancient city Palmyra: monitor

Nearly 300 people have been killed in several days of fighting since the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group launched an attack against Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, a monitor said on Sunday, May 17, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Nearly 300 people have been killed in several days of fighting since the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group launched an attack against Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, a monitor said on Sunday, May 17, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT (AFP) - Nearly 300 people have been killed in several days of fighting since the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group launched an attack against Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, a monitor said Sunday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources on the ground, said the toll comprised 123 soldiers and loyalist militiamen, 115 ISIS fighters and 57 civilians. 

The watchdog had earlier reported heavy artillery exchanges in the west of the town, close to the Unesco-listed world heritage site.

But there were no immediate reports of damage to the ancient city's colonnaded street or its 1st and 2nd century temples.

ISIS was bringing up reinforcements from its stronghold in the Euphrates Valley to the east after sustaining heavy losses in its advance on the oasis town northeast of Damascus, provincial governor Talal Barazi told AFP.

The town's peacetime population of 70,000 has been swamped by an influx of civilians fleeing the ISIS advance.

"We are taking all necessary precautions, and we are working on securing humanitarian aid quickly in fear of mass fleeing from the city," Barazi said.

Syrian antiquities chief Mamoun Abdulkarim voiced extreme concern for the ancient site and its adjacent museum, in light of the destruction wreaked by ISIS on pre-Islamic sites like Nimrud and Hatra in neighbouring Iraq.

"I am living in a state of terror," Abdulkarim told AFP, adding that ISIS "will blow everything up. They will destroy everything."