Islamic State losing ground in Palmyra

AMMAN: The Islamic State appears to be losing ground in Palmyra after launching a surprise attack last week, withdrawing from areas in the north and east of the historic town, home to Roman-era ruins that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“IS has pulled out from the northern neighborhoods in Palmyra, with life gradually returning to normal and some shops re-opening,” Khaled al-Homsi, the alias of a member of the Palmyra LCC, told Syria Direct Monday.

“IS fighters have settled in the al-Maalaf and al-Amariya areas [north of Palmyra] and some of the groves in the southeast vicinity of Palmyra,” Homsi said. The Islamic State captured al-Amariya last week.

Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi offered conflicting information, saying that regime forces had recaptured the village of al-Amiriya from the Islamic State in a phone interview with pro-regime daily Al-Watan Sunday.

“The Islamic State terrorists have begun to pull out of the vicinity of the town from the eastern side,” said al-Barazi.

It is unclear whether IS's withdrawal occurred because of losses incurred while fighting the regime or for tactical considerations.

 A view of Palmyra's ruins. Photo courtesy of bestourism.

Last week, pro-IS Twitter accounts reported that Islamic State fighters had taken eastern sections of Palmyra [see here]. Pro-opposition Masar Press reported last Thursday that fighting was underway in the northern and eastern districts of the city.

IS took the highest point in the Palmyra area, the site of a military radio/communication tower, last Wednesday, which the regime in turn heavily bombed on Thursday. Homs governor Barazi said regime forces took the tower back, but that information could not be confirmed.

A haze of uncertainty surrounds the state of Palmyra's famous citadel, located in the southwest vicinity of the town. Hosein Mortada, a correspondent stationed in Syria for the Iranian channel al-Alaam, reported Sunday that “the Syrian army retook the ancient Palmyra citadel [from the Islamic State].”

Al-Homsi said that “IS never took control of the citadel—rather they were about 1km away.”

Umar Hamza, a civilian inside Palmyra, told Syria Direct last week that regime warplanes had struck the vicinity of the citadel twice “by mistake,” according to what he heard from soldiers stationed at checkpoints inside the town.

Syrian army forces killed the leader of IS's assault on Palmyra, Abu Amir a-Shishani, reported Al-Alaam correspondent Hussein Mortada Sunday.

Osama Abu Zeid

Osama Abu Zeid is a native of Homs, where he served as a media activist and founding member of the Homs Revolutionary Council after the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Dan Wilkofsky

Dan Wilkofsky was a 2013-2014 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Amman, Jordan, where he worked with Talal Abu Ghazaleh Translation and the Ministry of Social Development. He has a BA in Classics (Latin) and Middle East Studies from Brown University.