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1 Mar, 2017 15:01

Syrian Army retakes Palmyra citadel from ISIS – sources to RT

Syrian government forces and their allies have liberated the Palmyra citadel located on a hill overlooking the town from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants, sources tell RT.

“Pro-government forces are now in control of several strategic mountains that are overlooking the ancient city of Palmyra. They also have under their control the famous citadel,” RT’s Lizzie Phelan reports, citing sources that are in direct contact with the army command center on the Palmyra front.

The Syrian Army does not have any forces stationed in the citadel, as it is filled with improvised explosive devices, but it is under their control, she added.

The Syrian Army took control over “the heights surrounding the historic citadel of Palmyra and as well as the SyriaTel hill after Islamic State militants abruptly left the area,” a field commander told RIA Novosti.

As a result, Palmyra is now “at a stone throw” from the Syrian Army, which is rapidly advancing towards the city, the commander added.

The army is now storming a hotel district in the southwestern part of Palmyra, RIA Novosti reports, citing a source.

Earlier, the area known as the ‘Palmyra triangle,’ located to the west of the ancient city, was recaptured by the army backed by “supporting forces,” following days of advance operations, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

Government forces engaged in fierce clashes with IS militants, leaving scores of them dead or injured, and chasing down those who retreated, the report added. Engineers are currently carrying out a clean-up of bombs and landmines in the area.

READ MORE: Russian MoD releases drone footage of Roman theater in Palmyra blown up by ISIS (VIDEO)

Ancient Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fell under Islamic State control in 2015. The world was shocked when it came to light that terrorists were destroying a number of iconic monuments, including the 1,800-year-old Monumental Arch of Palmyra, most of the Temple of Bel, and the Temple of Baalshamin.

In March 2016, Syrian government forces backed by Russian air support liberated the city, and reconstruction efforts on the extensive damage done by IS began.

However, Palmyra was seized by militants again in December, after which Islamic State terrorists destroyed part of a Roman theater and the legendary Tetrapylon in the ancient city.

The act was described as “a war crime” and “an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity” by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

Syria’s Director of Antiquities told Phelan that his staff evacuated over 95 percent of the antiques from Palmyra, including the most precious artefacts. Staff are now waiting for the right moment to enter the city again to assess the damage caused by IS this time.