Russia jets destroying Palmyra: activists

Syrian regime forces have reached the outskirts of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.


BEIRUT – An activist group has accused Russian airstrikes of causing widespread damage in Palmyra amid a regime offensive that has seen the Syrian army and allied militias advance to the entrance of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.


“Russia’s systematic bombing and destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra has continued for twenty consecutive days,” the Palmyra Revolution Coordination alleged in a statement issued Tuesday.


The pro-revolution activist group accused Russia of arbitrarily shelling the ISIS-held city “without differentiation between humans and stones.”


A video purports to show extensive damage in a residential neighborhood of Palmyra caused by Russian strikes. (YouTube/Palmyra Coordination)


“More than 900 raids targeted the city in the past two weeks, more than half of them [using] [internationally-proscribed] cluster bombs.”


The Palmyra Revolution Coordination group also claimed that Russian raids have destroyed more than half of the town’s neighborhoods, levelling “schools, hospitals and mosques.”


“Russia is destroying our city and our civilization.”


An activist who escaped from the town last week echoed these claims in an interview with the Syria Direct news website, saying that the regime has been using a “scorched earth policy” on the city.


“We are seeing hundreds of rockets and shells a day, either from planes or ground artillery and mortars. This bombardment has flattened entire neighborhoods,” he said.


The activist also claimed that Russian and Syrian airstrikes had targeted a number of the archaeological sites in the ancient city. ISIS has already destroyed a number of sites in the archaeological ruins of Palmyra.


“Say goodbye to Palmyra’s ruins, they’ve been completely disfigured and destroyed,” the activist warned.


The Russian Defense Ministry, for its part, announced on March 18 that it is conducting an average of 20 to 25 combat sorties daily in Palmyra against ISIS targets.


Prior to the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Palmyra was one of the country’s top tourist sites, attracting tens of thousands of visitors per year from around the world.


Syrian regime forces at the gates of Palmyra


Syrian regime forces in the past two days have advanced to the outskirts of the ancient city of Palmyra, which was captured by ISIS in May 2015.


The SOHR reported Wednesday morning that regime forces backed by allied militias had seized most of Al-Hayyal Mountain—a strategic point overlooking the city from two kilometers to the southwest.


“Fierce clashes continued until dawn [Wednesday] between regime troops and allied militiamen on one side and ISIS on the other… amid intense bombardment by Syrian and Russian jets,” the monitoring NGO added.


“Regime forces are now on the outskirts of Palmyra,” it added.


Syrian regime media touted the latest advance, which comes two weeks after pro-regime forces started a major offensive to retake the heritage city, which hosts fabled Hellenistic and Roman era ruins as well as a 13th century Mamluk fortress.


The Syrian Arab News Agency reported that Syrian army units and loyal militia forces “completely seized Al-Hayyal Hill overlooking Palmyra from the southwest… after destroying the last ISIS fortifications on it.”


Syrian army units “removed mines and IEDs which the ISIS terrorists planted,” SANA added.


Meanwhile, the pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper boasted that pro-regime forces had also captured the “Palmyra Triangle” area right at the southwestern entrance of the city.


The daily reported that Syrian regime forces have established a “ring of fire” over ISIS movements to and from the city from both its western and northwestern sides.


NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report.

A file photo of Syria's Palmyra. (AFP/Joseph Eid)

Russia is destroying our city and our civilization.