Special to WorldTribune.com
Syrian forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, took key high ground on the outskirts of Palmyra and positioned themselves for an advance on Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) forces in the historic ancient city.
“God willing, within few hours we will enter and secure the town,” one officer told the Syrian Ikhbariya TV. ISIL seized the city and destroyed many of its ancient ruins and artifacts in May of 2015.
Under cover of Russian airstrikes, Syrian regime and Hizbullah forces pushed from the west and south of Palmyra.
“The regime forces are now two kilometers (a little more than a mile) away on the south side and five kilometers (three miles) away on the west side,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The Observatory said ISIL jihadists have fiercely resisted the advance, killing at least 26 pro-government fighters on March 21 alone.
Whoever controls Palmyra also controls the surrounding desert, an area of some 30,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles) that extends to the Iraqi border. Should Syria retake the city, it would cut ISIL’s area of control from some 40 percent of Syrian territory to 30 percent, according to the Observatory.