Islamic State militants have entered Syria’s historic city of Palmyra, a UNESCO landmark, after gaining full control over the city, a monitoring group said Thursday. The extremists now control more than 50 percent of Syrian territory, it adds.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP that overnight IS seized most of the city, including an army intelligence outpost, a military airport and a prison.
“IS fighters are in all parts of Tadmur [Arabic name for Palmyra], including near the archaeological site,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The militants confirmed on Twitter that they gained full control over the ancient city, Reuters reported.
The remains of Palmyra, once one of the world’s key cultural hubs, stand in the middle of the desolate Tadmorean Desert in Syria.
The monitoring group says that this is the first time the jihadists have taken a large population center directly from Syrian pro-government forces. The group is already controlling wide areas in Syria’s north and east.
Many fear that after falling into jihadists’ hands, Palmyra would suffer a fate of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, Iraq, which they devastated earlier this year.
Syrian state TV said pro-government fighters had withdrawn from the city.
On Wednesday hundreds of statues were moved from the city to locations safe from IS militants, Syria’s Director of Antiquities Maamoun Abdulkarim told Reuters.
“Hundreds and hundreds of statues we were worried would be smashed and sold are all now in safe places,” Abdulkarim said. “The fear is for the museum and the large monuments that cannot be moved,” Abdulkarim added. “This is the entire world’s battle.”