The Islamic State captured the central Syrian city of Palmyra, routing Syrian Arab Army forces and killing and capturing hundreds of soldiers. The jihadist group is now estimated to control half of Syria.
The Islamic State took full control of the city over the past 24 hours after a week long offensive. Syrian troops began evacuating civilians yesterday before withdrawing in the face of the jihadist group’s onslaught. At least 462 civilians, 241 government troops, and 150 Islamic State fighters were killed in the fighting in and around Palmyra since May 13, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The takeover of Palmyra and the nearby Jazal oil field was announced by Al Bayan, the Islamic State’s radio program.
“The soldiers of the Khilāfah succeeded, by Allah’s permission in completely liberating the city of Tadmur [Palmyra], as well as the military airbase and the notorious Tadmur prison located near the city, after defeating Nusayrī forces and sending them fleeing, leaving several dead soldiers behind,” Al Bayan reported.
“In the region of Jazal, five checkpoints were assaulted and completely captured by the mujāhidīn, who also took control of the Jazal oil field, thus bringing the entire region of Jazal under the control of the Islamic State,” Al Bayan continued.
Palmyra, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization world heritage site, hosts Roman archeological sites which may be destroyed by the radical Islamist group. While the Islamic State has not been reported to have targeted the ancient ruins of Palmyra, the it has done so in other areas it has taken over in the past. For instance, the jihadist group destroyed tombs and other religious and cultural landmarks after it seized control of Mosul in June 2014.
With the takeover of Palmyra, the Islamic State now controls half of Syria, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Additionally, the group now possesses the “vast majority of the gas and oilfields in Syria, where only the regime-held gas field of al Sha’er in the countryside of Homs and YPG-held oilfields of Rmeilan in the countryside of al Hasakah are still out of its control.” The Islamic State uses resources extracted from the fields to fund its operations.
The Islamic State is flush with success after taking control of Palmyra. On May 17, the jihadist group stormed Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, Iraq, and drove Iraqi forces from the city. Additionally, the Islamic State took control of the Libyan city of Sirte today.
The loss of Palmyra is the latest setback for the Syrian government. A coalition of jihadist groups led by the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, took over Idlib in late March and ejected the Syrian military from the Al Mastoumah military base, the last bastion in the province, earlier this week.
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