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Syrian army retakes ancient Palmyra city 

Damascus, March 27 (IANS) The Syrian army fully recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria on Sunday, following days of intense battles against the Islamic State (IS) group.

The Syrian army and its allied fighters destroyed the last position of the IS in Palmyra, and started combing the city to dismantle and seize explosive devices, Xinhua reported.

More than 400 Islamic State (IS) militants were killed in the battles, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.

During the three-week-long military campaign backed by Russian and Shia fighters, the Syrian army lost 180 of its soldiers, the monitor group said.

The General Command of the army said that the defeat of the IS in the ancient city of Palmyra is the start of a further collapse of the group.

“Recapturing Palmyra is a strong blow to the IS terrorists and will usher in a further collapse of the morale of that terror group and the beginning of its defeat and collapse,” the army said.

Retaking Palmyra, the statement added, “is a sign that our army in cooperation with the friends is the only power capable of eradicating and rooting out terrorism.”

A military source said that the IS withdrew from the city under heavy attack and shelling of the Syrian army.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the IS militants pulled out toward the town of Sukhneh, east of the central province of Homs.

The ancient city of Palmyra is booby-trapped, said the source, adding that bomb squads have started defusing the explosives.

The city fell to the IS militants last May and the Syrian army started a broad offensive to recapture it several days ago.

Since capturing it last May, the IS group destroyed the city’s military prison and several Islamic tombs and ancient archaeological sites.

The IS also put on public executions of soldiers and people accused of working for the government.

Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.

Syria has many prehistoric, Greek, Byzantine and Islamic heritages. Before the crisis, Syria had attracted many multinational archaeological missions, coming for searching new clues of historical facts on the development of civilisations.

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