Backed by Russia, Syria reclaims strategic Palmyra, ‘Pearl of the Desert’

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Syrian forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, claimed a major victory on March 27 as they drove Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) from the historic ancient city of Palmyra.

“After heavy fighting during the night, the army is in full control of Palmyra – both the ancient site and the residential neighborhoods,” a military source told AFP.

Syrian troops launch a missile at an ISIL position in the battle for Palmyra. /YouTube
Syrian troops launch a missile at an ISIL position in the battle for Palmyra. /YouTube

After seizing the city, Syrian regime soldiers defused several mines and bombs that were planted by ISIL in the ancient ruins of the “Pearl of the Desert”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that ISIL forces were seen retreating towards the towns of Sukhnah and Deir Ezzor to the east.

While ISIL’s command ordered the withdrawal of its jihadists from the Palmyra, “a handful of ISIL fighters are refusing to leave the city and seem to want to fight on to the bitter end,” the Observatory said.

Following its capture of Palmyra in May 2015, ISIL blew up two of the site’s treasured temples, its triumphal arch and a dozen tower tombs.

ISIL used the city’s ancient amphitheater as a venue for public executions, including the beheading of the city’s 82-year-old former antiquities chief.

The Observatory reported ISIL lost at least 400 fighters in the battle for Palmyra while 188 Syrian troops and militiamen were killed.

“That’s the heaviest losses that ISIL has sustained in a single battle since its creation” in 2013, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Russian warplanes conducted more than 40 combat sorties in just 24 hours from March 25-26, targeting “158 terrorist” positions, according to the Russian defense ministry.