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.


Libyan migrant centers are like concentration camps, pope says

Updated 12 min 56 sec ago

Libyan migrant centers are like concentration camps, pope says

  • The pope has in the past called for the camps to be closed
  • Thousands of refugees and migrants are held in about 20 official detention facilities in Libya

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Wednesday compared migrant detention centers in Libya to concentration camps, saying the world was being given only a diluted version of how hellish life really was for the people living there.
The pope, who has in the past called for the camps to be closed, made his comments in his homily during a Mass to mark the seventh anniversary of his trip to the Italian island of Lampedusa, landing place for many migrants making the perilous crossing from north Africa.
Departing from his prepared address, he recalled how an interpreter translating his conversation with a migrant seven years ago, gave him only a “distilled” version of what the migrant was actually saying.
“This is what is happening today in Libya. They give us the distilled version,” said Francis, who has made defense of migrants a major part of his seven-year-old papacy.
“Yes, there is a war (in Libya) and we know that is ugly but you cannot imagine the hell that people live there in those lagers of detention,” he said.
Lager is an abbreviation of the German word ‘Konzentrationslager’, or concentration camp.
“All these people had was hope as they were crossing the sea,” Francis said.
Thousands of refugees and migrants are held in about 20 official detention facilities in Libya, some controlled by armed groups, as well as an unknown number in squalid centers run by traffickers, according to the United Nations.
Human rights groups say abuses, including beating and forced labor, are rife in the detention centers.
Detainees in the Libyan camps include those who left on boats for Europe and were brought back by the European Union- backed Libyan Coast Guard, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, says.