Over 50 die as ISIS militants are pushed away from Syria’s ancient Palmyra

'There was no damage to the ruins, but this does not mean we should not be afraid.'

By: Agence France Presse | Beirut | Updated: May 17, 2015 4:08 pm
isis, isil, islamic state, isis palmyra, palmyra islamic state, palmyra isis, isis attack palmyra, palmyra attack isis, isis unesco site, islamic state attack palmyra, isil attack palmyra, islamic state syria, syria islamic state, isil syria, syria isil, syira news, iraq ews, middle east news, world news FILE – In this image made from a militant video posted on YouTube on Friday, April 3, 2015, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a militant fires his weapon at faces on a wall in Hatra, a large fortified city recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, 110 kilometers (68 miles) southwest of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo)

Syrian government troops and militia put up fierce resistance on Sunday to an Islamic State group assault on one of the jewels of the country’s heritage, ancient Palmyra.

At least 23 regime loyalists and 29 jihadists were killed as IS overran northern neighbourhoods of the adjacent modern town of Tadmur late on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based watchdog reported heavy artillery exchanges in the west of the town, close to the UNESCO-listed world heritage site.

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But Syrian antiquities chief Mamoun Abdulkarim said clashes had subsided by mid-morning as troops pushed IS out of the northern part of the adjacent modern town of Tadmur.

“We have good news today, we feel much better,” he told AFP by phone, saying he was in contact with staff in Palmyra every half an hour.

“There was no damage to the ruins, but this does not mean we should not be afraid,” Abdulkarim added.

IS had brought up reinforcements from its stronghold in the Euphrates Valley to the east after sustaining heavy losses in its advance on the oasis town northeast of Damascus, provincial governor Talal Barazi told AFP.

The town’s peacetime population of 70,000 has been swamped by an influx of civilians fleeing the IS advance.

“We are taking all necessary precautions, and we are working on securing humanitarian aid quickly in fear of mass fleeing from the city,” Barazi said.

Abdulkarim voiced extreme concern for the ancient site and its adjacent museum, in light of the destruction wreaked by IS on pre-Islamic sites like Nimrud and Hatra in neighbouring Iraq.

The antiquities chief said he had been “living in a state of terror” that IS would destroy Palmyra’s well-preserved architecture, regarded as one of the jewels of the ancient Middle East.

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