ISIS re-enters Syria’s Palmyra
ISIS jihadists re-enter the historic city of Palmyra in central Syria, for the first time since being expelled nine months ago.
Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists on Saturday re-entered the historic city of Palmyra in central Syria, for the first time since they were expelledby Syrian and Russian forces nine months ago, The Associated Press reports.
The activist-run Palmyra Coordination network said the jihadists had nearly encircled the city and entered its northern and northwestern neighborhoods. The group, which maintains contacts inside the city, said ISIS fighters were approaching the city’s UNESCO heritage site as well.
Osama al-Khatib said government soldiers were fleeing Palmyra.
“The army as an institution has dissolved,” he said. Some soldiers and militiamen remain in the city, along with 120 families who have not been able to leave, Khatib said, speaking to APfrom Gaziantep, Turkey.
“There is strong fighting on all sides,” he reported. “There is no exit except through a corridor to the west.”
ISIS overran Palmyra, known as the “Pearl of the Desert”, in May of 2015 and it has since blown up UNESCO-listed temples and looted relics that dated back thousands of years.
The jihadist group used Palmyra’s grand amphitheater for a massacre in which child members of the group killed 25 Syrian soldiers, execution-style, in front of residents.
It also beheaded Palmyra’s 82-year-old former antiquities director in August.
The dramatic reversal in Palmyra comes days after ISIS jihadists in the Iraqi city of Mosul launched a major counterattack that surprised Iraqi soldiers, killing at least 20 and halting their advance.
On Saturday U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that an additional 200 U.S. soldiers would be dispatched to Syria to accelerate the push on the self-declared ISIS capital of Raqqa.
The 200, to include special operations troops, are in addition to 300 already authorized for the effort to recruit, organize, train and advise local Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces to fight ISIS.