Russia says Syrian government has recaptured Palmyra

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |   March 2, 2017 at 1:48 PM

March 2 (UPI) -- Russia on Thursday said President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian Arab Army has retaken the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State with the help of the Russian Air Force.

Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, said Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told Putin that Assad's regime freed the historic city from Islamic State control.

Syrian Army specialists are working to remove mines from the city and Assad's regime is fortifying defenses around Palmyra to prevent a counterattack by the Islamic State, officials said.

"The flag of the Islamic State terrorist group has been removed from the city of Palmyra," Andrey Krasov, deputy head of the Russian Duma's defense commitee, said Thursday. "It should be viewed as a joint success of the Russian Air Force and the Syrian military. Shortly, the whole territory of Syria will be liberated from the terrorists."

Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located in the Homs countryside northeast of Damascus. It served as a caravan oasis with various influences. Its art and architecture are a mix of Greek, Roman and Persian styles, UNESCO said.

The Islamic State damaged and destroyed many historic structures in the city. The iconic Temple of Bel, the Arch of Triumph and the Temple of Baalshamin were among the ancient buildings destroyed by the militant Islamist group.

"The retaking of Palmyra is a powerful symbol of liberation of Syria from the terrorist disease, the return of the country to normal life," Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international relations committee in Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, said Thursday.

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