First Palmyra residents to return Saturday: Syrian official

Displaced residents of the famed Syrian city of Palmyra, recently recaptured by the army

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Displaced residents of the famed Syrian city of Palmyra, recently recaptured by the army, will begin returning to their homes at the weekend, a government official told AFP on Thursday.

Syria's armed forces recaptured Palmyra and the adjacent world-famous ruins from the ISIS on March 27, ending nearly 10 months of militant rule.

ISIS overran the city in May 2015, spurring thousands of residents to flee west towards the government-held city of Homs.

"The first group of buses transporting residents back to Palmyra will leave on Saturday (from Homs). The residents started to register their names today," a provincial government official told AFP.

Much of Palmyra's pre-war population of nearly 70,000 people fled when ISIS took the city last year.

An estimated 15,000 residents stayed on under ISIS rule and fled during the Syrian army's offensive to retake the city. Their whereabouts are unknown.

Nearly "45 percent of the neighbourhoods have been destroyed," the provincial official said.

Many apartment blocks had partially collapsed walls and some had been totally demolished, AFP journalists who visited the city after its recapture reported.

Authorities this week began restoring power lines in the city and repairs to housing began on Wednesday, provincial governor Talal Barazi told state news agency SANA.

Before the civil war erupted in 2011, more than 150,000 tourists a year visited the celebrated ancient ruins at Palmyra, which included colonnaded streets and 2,000-year-old temples.

The militants used the city's ancient amphitheatre as a venue for public executions.

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