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IS under pressure as troops advance on Palmyra and Mosul

By Agencies in Damascus, Syria ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-03-26 07:59:13

Syrian troops on Thursday entered the ancient city of Palmyra and Iraqi forces launched an offensive against Mosul as pressure mounted on key strongholds of the Islamic State jihadist group.

The Syrian army advanced into Palmyra after launching a desert offensive early this month.

Russian defense ministry said Russian aircraft carried out 146 airstrikes on terrorist targets in the Palmyra area between Sunday and Wednesday, killing 320 terrorists and destroying six command posts and two ammunition dumps.

IS overran Palmyra - known as the "Pearl of the Desert" - in May and it has since blown up UNESCO-listed temples and looted relics that dated back thousands of years.

'Nightmare is over'

Palmyra's recapture would be a major strategic and symbolic victory for the Syrian government, since whoever holds it also controls the vast desert extending from central Syria to the Iraqi border.

A Syrian military source said the army had entered Palmyra from the northwest after seizing control of part of the historic Valley of the Tombs.

"The clashes, which are ongoing, are fierce," he said.

IS had earlier urged civilians to flee the city, where about 15,000 of its 70,000 original residents remained after the jihadist takeover.

Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdelkarim hailed the "imminent" recapture of Palmyra, vowing to rebuild monuments the jihadists destroyed.

"I am so happy that the liberation is imminent ... before the total destruction of the ancient city," he said.

UNESCO chief Irinia Bokova welcomed the push to recapture Palmyra.

"For one year, Palmyra has been a symbol of the cultural cleansing plaguing the Middle East," Bokova said.

Across the border, Iraqi forces announced the start of an offensive to retake the second city of Mosul, IS's main hub in Iraq.

Experts have warned any battle to retake Mosul would be difficult, given the significant number of jihadists and civilians in the city and the time IS has had to prepare defenses.

AFP - AP

(China Daily 03/26/2016 page9)

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