Syrian government forces recaptured the famed ancient city of Palmyra on Sunday in a major symbolic victory over the Islamic State terror group, a military source said.
“After heavy fighting during the night, the army is in full control of Palmyra — both the ancient site and the residential neighborhoods,” the source said.
IS fighters pulled out, retreating to the towns of Sukhnah, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor to the east.
“Army sappers are in the process of defusing dozens of bombs and mines planted inside the ancient site,” the source added.
IS overran the Palmyra ruins and adjacent modern city in May 2015, sparking a global outcry and fears for the UNESCO world heritage site known as the “Pearl of the Desert.”
The group has since blown up two of the site’s treasured classical temples, its triumphal arch and a dozen tower tombs.
It used Palmyra’s ancient amphitheater as a venue for public executions, including the beheading of the city’s 82-year-old former antiquities chief.
The oasis city’s recapture is a strategic as well as symbolic victory for President Bashar Assad, since it provides control of the surrounding desert extending all the way to the Iraqi border, analysts say.
During the battle for the city, Syrian regime forces were aided by Russian warplanes, which carried out 40 air sorties, hitting 158 targets and killing over 100 militants, Russia’s defense ministry said.
The IS group is on the back foot in Iraq and Syria, where forces on the ground have been backed by US-led airstrikes against the extremists. The US-led international coalition estimates that the group has lost 40 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and around 20% of its territory in Syria.