Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have liberated the strategically important city of Palmyra from ISIS, the Associated Press has confirmed. The historic city was taken after a nearly three-week campaign, which included heavy bombardment of the city by Russian aircraft and the assistance of Lebanese militias on the ground, including Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters. It also marks a major victory during the month-old, internationally brokered cease-fire in Syria’s civil war, which was designed, in part, to allow an alliance of sorts against Islamist militants like ISIS.
As the AP notes, ISIS is now facing strong, organized advances from virtually all their adversaries along multiple fronts, including Kurdish Peshmerga forces from the north, Iraqi forces from the east, and Syrian forces from the west, as well as continued bombardment from Russian and Western air power.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights calculates that 400 ISIS fighters were killed in the fight for Palmyra, while 180 anti-ISIS fighters were killed on the other side. ISIS also apparently evacuated Palmyra’s civilians to other ISIS-held territory prior to losing the city, so it’s not clear how many people were in the city to be liberated, and the AP points out that some residents don’t have any interest in living under Assad’s rule either.
The Syrian government is now reportedly trying to determine the extent of the damage caused by ISIS to Palmyra’s ancient ruins, which the militants had claimed to have mostly destroyed. Syrian state television has apparently shown footage of rubble and smashed statues in the city and its museum, but has also aired video of some artifacts and structures, like Palmyra’s grand colonnades, that were still intact or recoverable.