The Syrian army withdrew from the ancient city of Palmyra after an overwhelming attack by Islamic State (IS) terrorists before regrouping around the Tiyas T4 airbase dozens of miles westward through the Syrian desert.
The IS first seized the city in spring 2015 before being forced out by Syrian government troops with air support from Russian jets in March 2016. They have since made multiple attempts to retake Palmyra culminating in a major assault toward the end of last week.
On Saturday, the Islamists reportedly reentered the ancient city, although the Russian Defense Ministry said fighting was underway in Palmyra's outskirts. They were driven back by Russia's Aersopace Forces. The Russian Defense Ministry's reconciliation center said it was not targeting residential areas.
Later in the day, Syrian officials said most of the city had been evacuated while Syrian army units started regrouping in preparation to retake the city in an apparent admission that Palmyra again fell to the terrorists. On Monday, the IS captured a number of villages to the southwest of Palmyra alongside the Hiyan oil field. The T4 airbase has now become the Syrian army's new outpost in the midst of IS-held territory. Syrian troops, supported from the air, are continuing operations against the terrorists.
The events have sparked fears for the fate of the remaining civilian population as well as the city's ancient monuments that were severely damaged by the terrorists during their previous capture of Palmyra.
Various sources said up to several thousand IS fighters were redeployed from the group's self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa despite an ongoing offensive against the city by US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). US-led Operation Inherent Resolve on Monday said the SDF had liberated hundreds of square miles near Raqqa and launched a new offensive.
The IS move was made possible by a combination of factors, including the Syrian army getting bogged down in Aleppo as well as the failure by the SDF to pose a real threat to Raqqa, experts told Sputnik.
"I think the most important reason for the loss of Palmyra is neglect by the Syrian government as the government [put] too much manpower into the Aleppo battle. It seems to me the Palmyra front was eventually left poorly defended," Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a research fellow at the US-based Middle East Forum, said.
The battle for Aleppo is currently nearing completion with Syrian forces in control of over 90 percent of formerly militant-held areas in the east of the city.
The expert stressed that the Syrian government had a huge manpower shortage in its military and noted that the battle for Aleppo might not have required as many units as were deployed.
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