Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes pushed Thursday into the ancient town of Palmyra, which has been held by the Islamic State group since May, state TV reported. The advance came after the troops managed this week to capture several hills and high ground around the town, famed for its priceless archaeological site and Roman ruins, reports the AP. The state TV broadcast footage of its reporter, embedded with the Syrian military, speaking live from the entrance of Palmyra and saying that as of midday Thursday, the fighting was concentrated near the archaeological site on the southwestern edge of the town.
Recapturing the town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, would be a significant victory for Syria's army and its Russian allies. Russia withdrew most of its forces and aircraft from Syria last week after a monthslong bombing campaign that succeeded in turning the tide of the war again in President Bashar Assad's favor. Earlier in the day, Gov. Talal Barazi said from the nearby city of Homs that the Syrian army has determined three directions to storm Palmyra and was clearing all roads leading into the town of mines and explosives. "We might witness in the next 48 hours an overwhelming victory in Palmyra," he said. (ISIS already has destroyed archaeological treasures in Palmyra.)