In what was another blow to ISIS, after intense fighting they have been unable to seize Palmyra and have withdrawn from the historic city. The Syrian army had been defending the city and said that the four days of fighting ended with nearly 300 deaths, both civilian and ISIS. It has also been reported that the number of militants killed in the U.S. special operations raid in Syria, managed to kill 32 militants.
ISIS began advancing on Palmyra on Wednesday and had managed to capture a part of Tadmur, a town northeast to the Palmyra ruins. They had also seized some nearby villages and the Haql al-Hail gas field northeast of the heritage site. The group also managed to gain control over a strategic highway linking the city of Homs with the eastern city, Deiral-Zour. Syrian officials and opposition activists have claimed that the situation in Palmyra is completely under control since the Syrian forces have managed to push ISIS out of the northern parts of the town. ISIS now holds only some of the nearby villages and the oil fields.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group said that 123 Syrian army soldiers and 115 ISIS fighters were killed. The death toll also accounted for the 57 civilian casualties. During the ISIS offensive alone, at least 49 civilians were executed by the group as they moved closer to the town, some on charges of “dealing with the regime.” They carried out beheadings, where mine of the victims were minors.
A video on social media saw an ISIS flag being raised over the northern part of the town. ISIS’ advance towards the 2,000-year-old ruins had met with international concern as it was a UNESCO world heritage site. Palmyra, also known as ‘Venice of the Sands’ is home to elaborate tombs, arches and colonnaded streets. The Temple of Bel, a sanctuary dedicated to the local deity and a theatre are also there.
The site lies at the edge of an oasis and was a watering-place on a major trade route. The Palmyrenes had their own Semetic script and language and had also developed their own style of Classical architecture. It was feared that if the site fell in the hands of ISIS, a fate much alike the destruction of the Bamiyan Budhas by the Taliban, would befall Palmyra. There would be systematic destruction and vandalism of the site. Previously, in Iraq too, the group has ransacked important ancient sites.
Meanwhile, fighting still continues in Ramadi, Iraq. The government has tried to launch an offensive and is extremely worried about the outcome. Ramadi, has direct supply lines to ISIS locations in Syria and is thus, of strategic importance. More than 500 people have been killed in the fighting between government troops and the group. Ramadi is just 70 miles from the capital and at last report, had been completely overrun by ISIS.
In central Syria too, ISIS has not been completely pushed back as they continue to maintain a presence around Palmyra. Security forces cannot rest as the ISIS threat is still not over. The group had posted images of checkpoints in the neighboring gas field which they still hold. The group is less than a mile from the museum that holds most of the site’s relics and artifacts. Security forces are going over the town too. They are combing for booby traps and bombs which ISIS might have left behind.
By Anugya Chitransh
CBS News: Syria claims to have pushed ISIS from Plamyra
BBC: Palmyra: IS threat to ‘Venice of the Sands’
Al Jazeera: Hundreds killed in Syria fighting over Palmyra
Photo Courtesy of Varun Shiv Kapur’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License