Activists: Syrian pro-government forces close in on IS-held Palmyra
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Activists: Syrian pro-government forces close in on IS-held Palmyra

Archaeologists decry the extensive damage to the city’s famed ancient ruins, which once served as Syria’s main tourist attraction

This photo combo, made from footage taken from the Russian Defense Ministry official website, purports to show the Roman-era amphitheater on June 6, 2016, left, and on Feb. 5, 2017, right, in Palmyra, Syria. (Screen capture/YouTube)
This photo combo, made from footage taken from the Russian Defense Ministry official website, purports to show the Roman-era amphitheater on June 6, 2016, left, and on Feb. 5, 2017, right, in Palmyra, Syria. (Screen capture/YouTube)

BEIRUT — Syrian government forces and their allies from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah reached the outskirts of Palmyra in their push to drive Islamic State militants from the ancient town, activists said Tuesday.

The advancing forces reached the town’s southwestern gateway, located about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from its famed Roman ruins, according to the activist-run Palmyra Coordination Committee.

The activist group also reported airstrikes across the town Tuesday morning. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Hezbollah’s media outlets also reported the advances.

It was the second such campaign for the city in the past year.

This photo combo, made from footage taken from the Russian Defense Ministry official website, purports to show the Temple of Baalshamin (built in 131 CE) on June 6, 2016, left, and on Feb. 5, 2017, right, in Palmyra, Syria. (Screen capture/YouTube)

The government lost control of Palmyra in December, less than one year after reclaiming it from IS with Russian support. Archaeologists have decried what they say is extensive damage to the city’s famed ancient ruins.

Palmyra was Syria’s top tourist attraction before war gripped the country in 2011, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year. Syrians affectionately refer to the town as “the bride of the desert.”

Drone footage released by Russia’s Defense Ministry earlier this month showed new damage to the facade of Palmyra’s Roman-era theater and the adjoining Tetrapylon — a set of four monuments with four columns each at the center of the colonnaded road leading to the theater.

A 2014 report by a UN research agency disclosed satellite evidence of looting while the ruins were under Syrian military control. Opposition factions have also admitted to looting the antiquities for funds.

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