Palmyra: Syrian forces 'completely retake' IS-held town

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Syrian fighters take position as they advance to retake the ancient city of Palmyra (02 March 2017)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionSyrian troops are now in and outside of the city

Syrian government forces and their Russian backers have completely recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from so-called Islamic State (IS) militants, the two allies say.
The army and other pro-government forces were reported to have entered deep into the city after IS pulled out.
It ends the second occupation of Palmyra by the jihadists.
The first time they controlled the area, the militants destroyed some of its most celebrated monuments.
IS fighters were driven out in March last year, but managed to retake the city, its world famous ruins and the surrounding area in December.
Syria's Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari confirmed the recapture on Thursday. He said the city had been "liberated from the hands of the terrorist organisation" and that President Bashar al-Assad had kept his promise to drive them out.

Syrian forces take up positions during fighting against Islamic State militants in the ancient city of Palmyra (02 March 2017)Image copyrightAP
Image captionRussia says that Syrian troops (above) recaptured Palmyra with the help of airstrikes it provided
A road sign that shows the direction to the Syrian city of Palmyra (02 March 2017)Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe city has changed hands several times during the Syrian civil war

In Russia, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was reported by local media to have told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Palmyra had been fully retaken by the Syrian army with help from the Russian air force.
There were clashes and heavy shelling across the historic city as the offensive unfolded on Wednesday, UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
IS militants planted mines in several areas of the city before withdrawing, it said.

Media captionA look inside the ruins after they were recaptured from so-called Islamic State in March 2016

IS held the ruins and the nearby city, known locally as Tadmur, for 10 months after seizing it for the first time in May 2015. It blew up temples, burial towers and the Arch of Triumph, believing the shrines and statues to be idolatrous.
The jihadists also destroyed the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel, the great sanctuary of the Palmyrene gods.