IS retakes Palmyra again from Assad forces

ALEPPO/AMMAN

IS militants recaptured Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra on Sunday after briefly retreating in the face of heavy Russian air strikes on their positions, a news agency affiliated with the militants and a war monitor said.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants were back in control only hours after retreating to the orchards around Palmyra in the face of Russian air strikes.
“Despite the ongoing air raids, IS (Daesh) retook all of Palmyra after the Syrian army withdrew south of the city,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Daesh-linked Amaq news agency also reported that jihadists regained “full control” of the city on Sunday after taking the citadel, which overlooks Palmyra from a strategic hilltop.
Capturing Palmyra from Daesh in March was considered a major symbolic victory for Assad’s forces — and for its Russian ally. Russia’s monitoring center in Syria, quoted by Russian news agencies, acknowledged the strong Daesh counter-attack in Palmyra, saying more than 4,000 fighters involved.
“Despite heavy losses in manpower and equipment, the terrorists are trying as hard as possible to secure a foothold inside the city,” Interfax quoted a statement from the center as saying. “Syrian troops are fighting to defend Palmyra.”
More than 4,000 Daesh militants have regrouped and launched a second attack to try to recapture the ancient city of Palmyra, Russian news agencies cited Russia’s monitoring center in Syria as saying on Sunday. “Despite heavy losses in manpower and equipment, the terrorists are trying as hard as possible to secure a foothold inside the city,” Interfax quoted a statement from the center as saying. The center said Daesh was drawing on “significant forces” from its strongholds in Raqqa and Deir al Zor in Syria.
Nonetheless, the center said “Syrian troops are fighting to defend Palmyra.”
In Aleppo, Assad regime forces pushed forward on Sunday as thousands fled rebel-held areas. Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have been focused since mid-November on Aleppo, where they have retaken about 85 percent of the one-time bastion of opposition forces in the city’s east.
On Sunday, they pounded the shrinking rebel enclave in Aleppo’s southeast with artillery and air strikes, seizing a large part of the Maadi district, a monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 10,000 people had fled the remaining rebel-held districts since midnight, heading to government-run west Aleppo and newly retaken areas in the city’s north and center.
An estimated 120,000 people have poured out of east Aleppo since late November, according to the Britain-based monitor. State news agency SANA said at least 4,000 people had fled rebel districts in just hours on Sunday and were taken by bus to temporary shelters.—AFP

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