IS group retakes control of Palmyra, Homs governor confirms
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The Islamic State (IS) group recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra on Sunday and the army was fighting to regain control, Syrian state TV quoted the Homs governor as saying.
In the government’s first official admission that Palmyra had fallen once again to the militants, Governor Talal Barazi was quoted on Ikhbariyah TV as saying the army had pulled out of the city.
“The army is using all means to prevent the terrorists from staying in Palmyra,” he was reported to have said.
Syrian state radio reported that the army had evacuated its positions inside Palmyra. They were redeploying around the area in the face of large jihadist reinforcements.
Earlier on Sunday, rights monitors and the Russian authorities said more than 4,000 IS group militants had regrouped and launched an attack to recapture the city.
“Despite heavy losses in manpower and equipment, the terrorists are trying as hard as possible to secure a foothold inside the city,” the Russian reconciliation centre said, as quoted by Interfax. “Syrian troops are fighting to defend Palmyra.”
The reconciliation centre, which operates under the Russian defence ministry, said the IS group was drawing on “significant forces” from its strongholds in Raqqa and Deir al Zor.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that the militants had recaptured the ancient city on Sunday after briefly withdrawing in the face of heavy Russian air strikes.
The activist-run Palmyra Coordination group said IS group militants advanced from the northwest, seizing a neighborhood on the outskirts and Palmyra's castle.
An IS group propaganda agency also said the militants had recaptured Palmyra after launching a counter-offensive.
Earlier in the day, Russia said that it helped Syrian troops repel an attack on the town by launching more than 60 airstrikes.
The IS group has been advancing on the town in recent days, capturing areas on its outskirts at a time when Syrian forces are focused on driving rebels out of the northern city of Aleppo.
Palmyra is home to towering 2,000-year-old ruins and was a major tourist attraction before the civil war broke out in 2011. The IS group seized the town last year and held it for 10 months before being driven out by Russian-backed Syrian forces in March.
The militants launched a new advance on Palmyra in recent days, with reports of heavy fighting within the town itself.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)