Syrians drive ISIS out of Palmyra

BEIRUT • Syrian troops backed by Russian jets have completed the recapture of the historic city of Palmyra from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to the Kremlin and the Syrian army, in another blow to the militants.

Bolstered by air strikes and ground troops from Moscow, Syrian forces battled through the desert for weeks to reach the oasis city. It has traded hands several times during Syria's six-year civil war, and become a symbol of ISIS' wanton destruction of priceless cultural heritage in areas under its control.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin of Palmyra's recapture, a Kremlin spokesman told news agencies in Moscow on Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said the militants had totally withdrawn from the desert city but not before mining several areas.

"The Syrian army is still clearing neighbourhoods of mines and has not spread out into the whole city yet," said its director, Mr Rami Abdel Rahman.

An army statement carried on state news agency Sana on Thursday said Syrian forces had "regained control over Palmyra and surrounding territory after a series of successful military operations".

Palmyra has traded hands several times during Syria's six-year civil war, and become a symbol of ISIS' wanton destruction of priceless cultural heritage in areas under its control.

ISIS has suffered a string of setbacks since taking over swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Its two main strongholds of Mosul and Raqa both face assaults by forces backed by a United States-led coalition.

On another battlefront against ISIS, fighters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced they would cede several villages to the government as part of a deal brokered by Russia to avoid conflict with Turkey.

Turkey launched a cross-border operation in August that it said was meant to counter both ISIS and SDF, which is dominated by Kurdish fighters that Ankara sees as "terrorists". The surprise announcement by SDF marks the first time that US-supported fighters have offered to cede territory to Syrian government forces.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Syrians drive ISIS out of Palmyra'. Print Edition | Subscribe