Fighters from the so-called Islamic State are reportedly on the retreat in the Syrian city of Palmyra which they captured in May last year. After an assault by government troops backed by Russian airstrikes, the desert city’s old citadel is said to have been retaken.
Earlier, in another blow to the extremist group, the US said its forces had killed several senior ISIL leaders including its second-in-command Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Haji Imam. The operation has been described as marking a shift in US strategy as it focuses on targeting the extremist group’s top leadership.
Many of Palmyra’s ancient monuments have been blown up by ISIL in what the United Nations described as a war crime, although TV footage on Friday showed at least some structures still standing.
As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site, the city is strategically important, controlling routes east into ISIL’s heartland – and its recapture would mark the biggest reversal for the extremist group since Russia’s intervention in the conflict on the side of President al-Assad.
“This victory happened because of the will and determination of the soldiers in battle. We have liberated Palmyra castle, and the remnants of the militants are fleeing in the direction of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor,” said one Syrian army officer in Palmyra.