The Russian defence ministry on Tuesday angrily dismissed reports that its planes had launched air strikes against the Syrian city of Palmyra as false, the TASS news agency reported.
“All reports by foreign media that Russian planes allegedly struck the city of Palmyra are an absolute lie,” Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, was quoted as saying.
“Our planes in Syria do not strike populated areas and specially ones with architectural monuments.”
Syrian state television and a monitoring group said earlier on Tuesday that Russian jets had hit Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Palmyra.
“The Russian air force in coordination with the Syrian air force targeted positions held by the Islamic State group in and around the city of Palmyra,” state television said, citing a military source.
It said the strikes had destroyed “20 armored vehicles, three ammunition warehouses and three rocket launchers.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the Palmyra strikes were launched overnight and killed at least 15 ISIS fighters and injured dozens more.
ISIS seized control of Palmyra in May and has realized international fears by destroying some of the most prized sites in the UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient city.
On Sunday, the group blew up the Arch of Triumph at the site, after previously razing two famed temples, including the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel.
ISIS regards statues and grave markers as idolatrous, though it has smuggled and sold antiquities without qualms to raise money.
Experts say the group destroys ancient sites in part for propaganda value, grabbing headlines and attracting potential recruits.
Syria’s antiquities chief Maamun Abdulkarim warned Monday of a “systematic destruction” of Palmyra.
“They want to raze it completely,” he told AFP.
Syria’s army has advanced towards Palmyra from the west in recent months, but experts have warned any attack by regime forces could only speed up ISIS’s destruction of its remaining treasures.
Syrian state television also reported Tuesday what appeared to be Russian raids on several sites in the northern province of Aleppo, including the IS-controlled town of Al-Bab.
(With AFP and Reuters)SHOW MORE