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24 Mar, 2016 10:16

Syrian Army ‘1km away’ from taking Palmyra from ISIS – military sources to RT

Bolstered by Russian-made weapons, the Syrian Army is on the verge of taking back the historic city of Palmyra from Islamic State, which has occupied it since last May, according to RT’s sources within the command of the government forces.

“The army is less than 1km from the citadel, which means that the Syrian government is within hours of retaking the city,” Alaa Ebrahim, a Syrian journalist, told RT after talking with a high-ranking officer. “Once they control the castle, retaking Palmyra will be a formality.”

The government has been advancing from three directions in recent days, and despite sending reinforcements to the symbolic stronghold, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) began broadcasting messages through loudspeakers in the city, urging sympathetic civilians to flee.

“The multi-directional attacks have forced ISIS to spread its units over a large area of land, consequently undermining its ability to stop the advance,” said Ebrahim, who was reporting from Damascus, straight after having returned from the theater of battle.

The counter-offensive had been supported by Russian airstrikes, and Ebrahim said Russian weapons were also making a difference on the ground.

“This battle witnessed the use of new communication devices and artillery units in the Syrian Army that have been supplied by Russia, and I have seen with my own eyes that these weapons are making a substantial difference, ensuring greater accuracy and superior firepower than ISIS is capable of.”

Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, formerly known for housing some of the best-preserved monuments of antiquity anywhere in the world. Since capturing it, the jihadists have blown up the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, and the Arch of Triumph, and have used the Roman-era amphitheater for filmed public executions.

The Syrian advance has been partially enabled by a ceasefire concluded at the end of last month between the main warring factions in the country, which excluded Islamic State. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is visiting Moscow to discuss the agreement and Russia’s official withdrawal from the conflict, said the ceasefire had resulted in a reduction of violence of up to 85-90 percent.