By Reuters – Mar 23,2016 – JORDAN TIMES
This file photo taken on March 14, 2014, shows a partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus (AFP photo)
BEIRUT — Syrian soldiers and their allies advanced to within 1km of Palmyra on Thursday and soldiers speaking from the outskirts of the historic city said they hoped to recapture it from Daesh militants within hours.
The Syrian army is trying to retake Palmyra, which the ultra-hardline militants seized in May, to open a road to the mostly Daesh-held eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
The recapture of the desert city would be one of the most prominent successes for President Bashar Assad since Russia launched a military intervention in September which turned the tide of Syria’s civil war in his favour.
Palmyra is the site of ancient Roman-era temples and colonnades — many of them destroyed by the militants — as well as being a strategic link between the west and east of Syria.
“We are 850 metres from Palmyra city. In a few hours [government] forces will declare the city of Palmyra completely secure, God willing,” one soldier told Ikhbariya television channel, in comments echoed by his comrades on the front.
One of the soldiers said they had cleared around 120 explosives from the “Palmyra Triangle” road junction area as they approached the city from the west.
Syrian television quoted the field commander as saying the road into Palmyra was now open to government forces after they took control of hills overlooking its approaches.
Earlier, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported clashes on the outskirts of the city as government forces, backed by Russian and Syrian warplanes, made advances.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said last week he was withdrawing most Russian forces, predicted on Thursday that the Syrian army would retake Palmyra soon.