Islamic State militants have taken over nearly the entire Syrian city of Palmyra, activists and a monitoring group said.
Palmyra is home to several glorious ancient ruins and has been designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Owing to its magnificent architecture, the city, which dates back to the 1st and 2nd centuries, is also called The Pearl of the Desert.
However, there are fears that the militant organization will destroy the ruins.
According to BBC, IS’s unrelenting advance into the city caused the government troops to retreat. Activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the city was taken over after most of the civilians had been evacuated and the Assad regime began moving towards its strongholds in the west.
Rami Abdul Rahman, director of SOHR, said, “The Islamic State organisation has now established almost complete control over the area from Palmyra to the Syrian-Iraqi border and onwards to the Syrian-Jordanian frontier,” as reported by The Guardian.
It was earlier reported that IS had defeated the President Bashar al-Assad’s military and thereby captured much of north Tadmur.
According to Al Jazeera, Abo Muaz, an activist in Palmyra, said, “The Syrian army has retreated, ISIL are infested in almost all of the city. The army began its retreat almost two hours ago.
“We do not hear any clashes taking place, either. A large number of families are currently fleeing from several parts of Palmyra. Clashes have been taking place and regime warplanes have not stopped bombing the city.”
Sites that predate Islam in Iraq (like Hatra and Nimrud) have been destroyed by the militants.
Questions are also being raised about Assad’s troops and militias, whose collapse and subsequent withdrawal from the city comes as a surprise.
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and author of Profiling the Islamic State, said, “The regime didn’t seem to put up a sustained fight against the Isis attack on Palmyra, which is in and of itself concerning.
“Increasingly over the last several months, a new regime strategy has been emerging whereby only the most strategically critical locations and regions receive total support and thus put up the most resistance against attack.”
Several artifacts housed in the Palmyra’s museum have been transferred out of the city, as reported by Mamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief.
Meanwhile, several airstrikes have been launched against the militant group by a coalition led by the United States since 2014.
You might also be interested in: Burundi Protests: Soldier Shot Dead, Elections Delayed By One Week