Saturday, March 26, 2016

Progress in Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: The battle for Palmyra will reveal how much damage was done to Syria's priceless relics (Nabih Bulos, L.A. Times).
Syrian pro-government forces battled their way Friday into the outer areas of the city of Palmyra, the archaeological metropolis held by Islamic State militants since May of last year, as part of a punishing month-long drive to wrest control of the city and surrounding areas from the extremist group.

Syrian state television broadcast images of soldiers backed by armored units advancing toward the city as Syrian and Russian helicopters and warplanes pounded militant positions ahead of the troops. The state news agency said army units and allied fighters had retaken the ancient citadel, a 13th century castle perched atop a city whose 2,000-year-old antiquities have become some of the most devastating casualties of the occupation.

Some opposition activists disputed the extent of the gains, and fierce fighting was still underway, but it appeared clear that Russian airpower was helping turn the tide in Syrian President Bashar Assad's push to recapture large swaths of territory that have been declared part of Islamic State's caliphate.

Moscow earlier this month said it would withdraw most of its forces from Syria, but President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that recapturing Palmyra remains a crucial objective.

"I hope that this pearl of world civilization, or at least what's left of it after bandits have held sway there, will be returned to the Syrian people and the entire world," Putin said.

I hadn't heard about that. Good for him. The article also reports that civilians were sent out of the city in advance of this military action and that there seems to be some corroboration that this is true.

Background here and links.