Syrian troops retake ancient Palmyra from Daesh control

Updated 27 March 2016

Syrian troops retake ancient Palmyra from Daesh control

DAMASCUS: Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes drove Daesh fighters from Palmyra on Sunday, ending the group’s 10-month reign of terror over a town whose famed 2,000-year-old ruins once drew tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Government forces had been on the offensive for nearly three weeks to try to retake the central town, known among Syrians as the “Bride of the Desert,” which fell to the extremists last May. Their advance marks the latest in a series of setbacks for Daesh, which has come under mounting pressure on several fronts in Iraq and Syria in recent months.
In comments reported on state TV, President Bashar Assad described the Palmyra operation as a “significant achievement” offering “new evidence of the effectiveness of the strategy espoused by the Syrian army and its allies in the war against terrorism.”
Gen. Ali Mayhoub announced on the station that that the fall of Palmyra “directs a fatal blow to Daesh, undermines the morale of its mercenaries, and ushers in the start of its defeat and retreat.” He said it lays the ground for further advances toward Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, and Deir el-Zour, an eastern city it largely controls.
Troops in Palmyra are now dismantling explosive booby traps planted by Daesh, the station reported. State TV and a Britain-based monitoring group later reported that troops captured a military airport to the east.
The advance marks a strategic and symbolic victory for the government, which has sought to portray itself as a bulwark against terrorism. The town was an important juncture on a Daesh supply line connecting its territory in central and northern Syria to the Anbar province in Iraq, where the group also holds territory.
Daesh drove government forces from Palmyra in a matter of days last May and later demolished some of the best-known monuments in its UNESCO world heritage site, including two large temples dating back more than 1,800 years and a Roman triumphal archway.
State TV showed the rubble left over from the destruction of the Temple of Bel as well as the damaged archway, the supports of which were still standing. It said a statue of Zenobia, the 3rd century queen who ruled an independent state from Palmyra and figures strongly in Syrian lore, was missing. Many of the Roman colonnades, however, were still standing.
Artefacts inside the city’s museum also appeared heavily damaged on state TV. A sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena was shown decapitated, and the museum’s basement appeared to have been dynamited, the hall littered with broken statues.


Erdogan’s ‘hypocrisy’ over Israel’s land grab in Palestine

Updated 26 min 21 sec ago

Erdogan’s ‘hypocrisy’ over Israel’s land grab in Palestine

  • Turkey is in controversial talks with Israel over mutually beneficial maritime borders in the Mediterranean

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan risked accusations of hypocrisy on Monday as he repeated his denunciations of Israel’s occupation and annexations in Palestine while allowing the Israeli airline El Al to resume cargo flights between Tel Aviv and Istanbul.

The first such flight in 10 years landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment for US medical teams fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

As the plane touched down, Erdogan was sending a message to US Muslims restating his support for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and his rejection of Israeli oppression.

“Last week we witnessed that a new occupation and annexation project, which disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law, was implemented by Israel,” he said.

“I would like to reiterate that Al-Quds Al-Sharif, the holy site of three religions and our first qiblah, is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”

Israel’s new unity government led by Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz is expected to move forward soon with plans to annex swaths of the West Bank and Jordan Valley.

Meanwhile, as Arab News reported this month, Turkey is in controversial talks with Israel over mutually beneficial maritime borders in the Mediterranean. Erdogan is attempting a risky political balancing act, analysts told Arab News.

“I think Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because the political benefits of blockade and isolation have weakened,” said Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at the geopolitical risk company Stratfor.

“But at the same time, they do want to keep some of that tradition of sympathy for Palestine alive for those remaining supporters who still prize the issue.”