Islamic State (IS) fighters retook the ancient city of Palmyra on Sunday, in an embarrassing setback for thousands of Syrian government troops and their Russian allies defending the area, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Syrian forces have evacuated Palmyra, repositioning themselves on its outskirts and preparing for a counterattack, Talal al-Barazi, the governor of Homs province, was quoted as saying.
Russian warplanes continued to pound IS fighters in the city, and the terror group was sending reinforcements from its other redoubts in Syria, Barazi added.
“This morning, most civilians were evacuated [from the city],” the official said late Sunday.
IS’ media arm, Amaq, said its fighters had taken Palmyra’s city center days after launching their offensive on Thursday.
The jihadist group’s advance shows its ability to mount aggressive counterattacks despite losing significant territory across its self-declared caliphate this year, the Journal noted.
The militants first captured the city in May 2015.
Early this year, the Syrian government retook it with the help of the Russian military and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the most important victory against IS by Damascus and its allies.
The setback now comes as the Syrian military is nearing victory over other rebel forces in Aleppo city after years of battle.
The fall of Palmyra is particularly glaring for Russia, which counted the city as its first major victory over IS after entering the war in September 2015.
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