ISIL defeats Syrian Army in Palmyra: Strategic withdraw?

Palmyra, Syria (nsnbc) – The Syrian Arab Army and Shabiba self-defense forces were defeated by ISIL brigades at the strategically important town and World Heritage Site of Palmyra. Control over Palmyra enables control over, or the obstruction of traffic between the towns and provinces of Damascus and Homs. Large parts of the residents and displaced have been evacuated from the city, enabling the Syrian Air Force to  target ISIL positions.

"Temple of Baal-Shamin, Palmyra" by Bernard Gagnon

“Temple of Baal-Shamin, Palmyra” by Bernard Gagnon

Units of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Shabiba self-defense forces withdrew from the city of Palmyra on Wednesday after an initial victory over Islamic State a.k.a. ISIS / ISILbrigades last week. Shabiba units facilitated the evacuation of large swaps of Palmyra’s population before the withdrawal. Residents of the town housed large numbers of displaced from the region around Palmyra.

The city is located some 240 km from the capital Damascus. Control over the city of Palmyra and the mountains in the surrounding region facilitates control over traffic between the cities and provinces of Damascus and Homs. The fall of Palmyra into the hands of ISIL is likely to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Syria and poses a significant risk to the capital Damascus.

SAA and Shabiba units are reportedly attempting to maintain control over the Damascus Homs road in the region. UNESCO warns that the fall of the ancient ruins at Palmyra, a World Heritage Site, poses a threat to the invaluable archaeological sites of outstanding value. SAA forces have reportedly succeeded at removing some of the most vulnerable bas-reliefs.

ISIL is notorious for either destroying any sites predating Islam and/or for selling the antiquities on the black market.

It is uncertain to what degree the SAA and Shabiba’s withdrawal is of tactical nature. The Syrian Air Force has gained a strategic advantage after the evacuation of large swaps of Palmyra’s residents and the displaced families who had found refuge in the city. Air Force strikes are currently concentrating at the northeastern part of the city where there are the greatest concentrations of ISIL battalions.

Certain “opportunistic” politicians in western countries used UNESCO’s statement to renew calls for an intervention. Approximately 70 % of ISIL fighters in Syria are mercenaries and volunteers from foreign nations. The spread of ISIL throughout Syria and Iraq originated predominantly from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Heavy fighting was also reported from Qalamoun near the Lebanese border, where the SAA, Shabiba andHezbollah are combating Jabhat al-Nusrah battalions.

CH/L – nsnbc 21.05.2015

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