Beirut: The Syrian army said on Thursday that it had recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIS for the second time in a year, with help from allied forces and Russian warplanes.
ISIS seized Palmyra in a surprise advance in December, after having been driven out eight months before.
“With backing from the Syrian and Russian air forces, units of our armed forces recaptured the city of Palmyra, in cooperation with the allies,” the military said in a statement.
The army and Iranian-backed militia advanced inside Palmyra on Thursday as ISIS withdrew completely, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said.
ISIS militants retreated to areas in the east, the observatory reported. Government forces took control of swathes of Palmyra and conducted combing operations to clear mines on Thursday, it said.
During ISIS’s first occupation which ended in March last year, the ultra-hardline jihadist group destroyed some of Palmyra’s priceless archaeological heritage. It is believed to have razed other parts of the historical ruins after regaining control in December.
The Syrian army is also fighting ISIS east of Aleppo city, where it is pushing to reach the Euphrates river, and in the city of Deir al-Zor, where it controls an enclave besieged by the militants.
ISIS is on the back foot in Syria after losing territory in the north to an alliance of US-backed, Kurdish-led militias, and to Turkey-backed Syrian rebel groups.
Government and opposition delegations are attending UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva, where the government’s chief negotiator hailed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for keeping his promise to retake Palmyra.
The Syrian opposition however declined to congratulate Assad on capturing Palmyra and suggested the sight of the city changing hands again was risible.