Groundwork laid to defeat ISIS in Palmyra, Syria - Russian military

All conditions are in place to surround and defeat Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) in Palmyra, Syria, Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the main operations department of the Russian General Staff, told reporters.

“Everything necessary has been provided for the encirclement and definitive defeat of IS armed groups in Palmyra,” Rudskoy said, adding that the Syrian Army had already taken control over all dominant heights and major roads around the city. The terrorists’ logistical support has also been cut off.

The Syrian army and patriotic opposition fighters, backed by the Russian Air Force, are conducting a large-scale operation to liberate the city.

The Russian Air Force make an average of 20-25 sorties per day lending support to the operation aimed at liberating Palmyra, the spokesman said, stressing that Russia will continue to carry out airstrikes targeting IS and Al Nusra Front in Syria.

Last week, Syrian government forces and people’s militia groups backed by Russian airstrikes managed to come close to the city. On Thursday, they reportedly entered the Palmyra museum complex.

Russia is withdrawing most of its forces from Syria and ending its five-month anti-terror operation launched on September 30, 2015. The decision was taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 14, who said that the operation’s objectives have been largely achieved.

Russia’s backing allowed Syrian forces to free 400 populated areas and over 10,000 square kilometers [3,860 square miles], Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said when he reported to Putin on March 14, adding that terrorists had been forced out of Latakia and Aleppo provinces while Palmyra was "blocked."

Russia also continues to monitor observance of the ceasefire with more than 70 drones. The Russian Defense Ministry reiterated there had been a sustained decrease in the number of ceasefire violations adding that Russia’s ceasefire monitoring center recorded only five such cases over the last 24 hours in comparison to “dozens of violations” recorded earlier.

On Thursday, Putin said Russia could deploy its forces back to Syria within a matter of hours if necessary, although he stressed that Moscow would not want to see such a development. With regards to Palmyra, Putin said that he hoped for the city to be returned to the Syrian people.

Following up on the president's comment, the Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov clarified that Russian forces are not involved in a military operation surrounding the ancient city.

“The offensive is conducted by Syrian armed forces. What the president said was that the campaign has significantly strengthened the Syrian armed forces, which are now able to independently continue the offensive,” Peskov told reporters.