MIDDLE EAST

ISIS fires barrage of rockets at Palmyra

The well-preserved city of Palmyra remains one of the most important cultural centres in the ancient world, known for its unique blend of Graeco-Roman and Persian influences. (AFP)

ISIS fired a barrage of rockets on residential neighborhoods in Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, killing five civilians including two children, a monitoring group said Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported fierce clashes between the militants and government troops on the outskirts of the city's 2,000-year-old UNESCO world heritage site.

"At least five civilians, including two children, were killed Sunday night when ISIS fired rockets on numerous neighborhoods in Tadmur," the Observatory told Agence France-Presse, using the Arabic name for the city.

"It's the first time that ISIS has fired so many rockets on the city," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman, who gathers information from a network of civilians, medics and fighters in Syria.

According to Syrian antiquities director Mamoun Abdulkarim, two rockets fell Sunday on the garden of Palmyra's museum, which houses statues, sarcophagi, and other well-preserved artifacts, without causing any damage.

It was earlier reported that the Syrian government troops and militia put up fierce resistance to the ISIS assault on the town.

ISIS militants had seized part of the town of Tadmur on Saturday.

The fighting caused the death of nearly 300 people, a monitor said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources on the ground, said the toll comprised 123 soldiers and loyalist militiamen, 115 ISIS fighters and 57 civilians.

It said dozens of the civilians had been executed.

The Britain-based watchdog reported heavy artillery exchanges in the west of the town, close to the UNESCO-listed world heritage site.

But there were no immediate reports of damage to the ancient city's colonnaded street or its 1st and 2nd century temples.

ISIS was bringing up reinforcements from its stronghold in the Euphrates Valley to the east after sustaining heavy losses in its advance on the oasis town northeast of Damascus, provincial governor Talal Barazi told AFP.

"We are taking all necessary precautions, and we are working on securing humanitarian aid quickly in fear of mass fleeing from the city," Barazi said.

The militants had pulled out of the northern parts of Tadmur but still controlled a village north of Palmyra according to The Syrian Observatory in comments carried by the BBC.

They remain in control of the surrounding countryside and are reportedly still attacking Tadmur prison and some strategic oil and gas facilities.

Palmyra’s peacetime population of 70,000 has been swamped by an influx of civilians fleeing the ISIS advance.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s head of antiquities said in comments carried by the British broadcaster that the army was in control of the town of Tadmur and its outskirts and that the ancient ruins of Palmyra had not suffered further damage since fighting began.

ISIS militants have plundered and destroyed ancient historical sites across Iraq claiming they were symbols of idolatry, leading to fears that they may destroy Palmyra’s ruins if they capture Tadmur and the surrounding areas.

Syrian antiquities chief Mamoun Abdulkarim voiced extreme concern for the ancient site and its adjacent museum, in light of the destruction wreaked by ISIS on pre-Islamic sites like Nimrud and Hatra in neighboring Iraq.

"I am living in a state of terror," Abdulkarim told AFP, adding that ISIS "will blow everything up. They will destroy everything."
 

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Last Update: Monday, 18 May 2015 KSA 13:10 - GMT 10:10
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ISIS fires barrage of rockets at Palmyra
ISIS militants had seized part of the town which is located near the World Heritage-listed ruins of Palmyra
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