AMMAN: A state of anxiety and confusion persists inside Palmyra as Islamic State fighters edge closer to the historic town Thursday, one day after capturing al-Amiriya just to the north.
It was not immediately clear how close IS has gotten to Palmyra, home to a UNESCO World Heritage site, but some pro-IS Twitter accounts are reporting that they have taken eastern sections of the town [see here]. Pro-opposition Masar Press reported on Thursday that fighting is currently underway in the northern and eastern districts of the city. The Roman-era ruins abut the town’s southwest.
At the very least, the Islamic State was 1.5km west of the ruins on Thursday, as documented by Syria Direct’s open source partner, Open Syria. IS took the highest point in the Palmyra area, the site of a military radio/communication tower, on Wednesday night, which the regime in turn heavily bombed on Thursday.
Satellite imagery of military radio/communication tower in Palmyra. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.
Palmyra itself is in “a state of fear” because of the back-and-forth bombing operations between IS and the regime, in addition to snipers inside the town, Khaled al-Homsi, alias of a member of the Palmyra LCC, told Syria Direct Thursday.
Regime forces manning checkpoints around the town “are opening fire randomly in different neighborhoods, while snipers have climbed the tall buildings and are targeting anything that moves,” said Umar Hamza, a civilian inside Palmyra.
“Most residents are holed up inside their houses,” he added.
Following the IS capture of al-Amiriya, a town north of Palmyra on Wednesday, “fighting is now ongoing in the vicinity of the Khatab Hotel southeast of the city,” said Khaled al-Homsi.
Palmyra is a key point of defense for the surrounding gas and oil fields, including the Shaer fields, the principal source of gas for the energy-strapped regime. The town, known as Tudmur in Arabic, reportedly houses a large number of Iranian officers, reported pro-opposition Zaman al-Wasl in February 2015.
IS also captured the officers’ quarters complex to the east of the city following battles Wednesday, reported the pro-IS Baqiya wa Tatamadad Twitter account.
“A number of officers left the town accompanied by their families after fleeing the officers’ quarters,” said Hamza.
While pro-IS Twitter handles reported that the Islamic State had captured the weapons depot complex located in a valley northwest of Palmyra [see here], al-Homsi said that fighting was still ongoing in the area. He could not confirm IS control of the compound housing the depots.
Regime warplanes reportedly bombed the vicinity of the historic citadel district with two missiles fired “indiscriminately,” said al-Homsi, who speculated that the attack was a mistake considering the area is still firmly under regime control.