Special to WorldTribune.com
Using loudspeakers, Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) jihadists on March 24 called on the 15,000 civilians who remain in Palmyra to flee as Syrian forces advance on the ancient city.
“The vast majority had already fled – only those too poor to flee stayed behind,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The city had a population of 70,000 before it was captured by ISIL in May 2015.
Syrian and Hizbullah troops, backed by Russian airstrikes, are now said to be poised for a siege on the city. President Bashar Assad’s forces had advanced within two kilometers (1.2 miles) of Palmyra on March 23.
Abdel Rahman said the Syrian forces were forced to slow their advance as ISIL has planted explosives in the fields surrounding the city.
State television reported that Assad’s forces had engaged in fierce fighting with ISIL jihadists in the Hayy al-Gharf neighborhood in the southwest of Palmyra.
“The armed forces backed by the popular defense forces continue to advance on Palmyra city, and have taken full control of Al-Tar hilltop to the west of the city,” state television reported.
After capturing the city, ISIL destroyed much of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, blowing up temples and looting relics dating back 2,000 years.