Syrian war: government troops lose Palmyra, but win in Aleppo

IS ‘retakes Palmyra’ after Syria army withdrawal

The Islamic State group, which was forced out of Palmyra in March, was reportedly back in control of the Syrian desert city at the second attempt on Sunday, after an initial success was countered by Russian air strikes.

«Despite the ongoing air raids, IS retook all of Palmyra after the Syrian army withdrew south of the city,» said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman.

The militants made a lightning-fast advance across the city after overrunning a northern neighbourhood and capturing the famed citadel to Palmyra’s west.

The IS-linked Amaq news agency also reported that IS regained «full control» of the city on Sunday after taking the citadel, which overlooks Palmyra from a strategic hilltop.

IS launched an offensive last week near Palmyra, a renowned UNESCO World Heritage site.

It seized oil and gas fields before making a major push into the desert city on Saturday, sparking new worries for Palmyra’s remaining ancient treasures.

But a fierce Russian bombing campaign killed scores of IS fighters and forced others to withdraw at dawn on Sunday.

«Intense Russian raids since last night forced IS out of Palmyra, hours after the jihadists retook control of the city,» said the Observatory’s head.

«The army brought reinforcements into Palmyra last night, and the raids are continuing on jihadist positions around the city,» he told AFP.

In a statement issued in Moscow, the defence ministry said Russian warplanes conducted 64 air strikes against «positions, convoys and advancing reserves of militants» in Palmyra.

«Over the past night, Syrian government troops with active support of the Russian air force thwarted all terrorist attacks on Palmyra,» it said in a statement.

«The attacking militants actively used car bombs with suicide bombers, armoured vehicles and rocket artillery,» it said, adding that the strikes killed more than 300 militants and destroyed 11 tanks and 31 vehicles.

However, a BBC report citing «activists» later on Sunday said that «IS regained control of the city despite being forced from the centre by Russian air strikes».

Russia has carried out a bombing campaign in Syria in support of its ally President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.


IS fighters have used hit-and-run tactics to cut their losses of personnel and equipment, withdrawing under intense bombardment but quickly relaunching an attack when skies are clear.

The militants have killed around 100 members of Syrian government forces since launching simultaneous attacks on several government positions near Palmyra on Thursday, the Britain-based Observatory said.

They targeted areas including near the Mahr and Shaar oil and gas fields and seized government checkpoints, silos and the village of Jazal, northwest of Palmyra.

In May last year, the group seized several towns in Homs province including Palmyra, where they caused extensive damage to many of its ancient sites.

They were ousted from Palmyra in March by Syrian government forces backed by Russia.

That was hailed as a major victory, with Russian celebrities travelling there since March staging concerts and making public appearances.


Syrian Army closes on east Aleppo amid jihadist collapse

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) continued their large-scale offensive in eastern Aleppo today after taking a brief hiatus in order to negotiate a possible exit for the jihadist rebels.

With no agreement put in place, the Syrian Arab Army launched a powerful assault inside the final districts under jihadist control; this would result in a series of intense firefights that would last for much of the day.

Led by the elite Tiger Forces, the Syrian Arab Army managed to capture most the Al-Sahleen and Bab Al-Maqam Neighborhoods after overpowering the jihadist rebels of Fatah Halab and Jaysh Al-Fateh on Sunday afternoon.

According to a military source in Aleppo, the Tiger Forces and Desert Hawks Brigade are on the verge of seizing the remaining areas under jihadist rebel control, including the Bustan Al-Qasir and Sukkari districts.

In the coming days, the Syrian Armed Forces will likely attempt to negotiate a deal with the jihadist rebels in order to surrender the east Aleppo pocket in exchange for safe passage to the Anadan Plains or Idlib.


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