Syrian government forces have seized three neighborhoods inside Palmyra, a town with famed Roman-era ruins that fell to ISIS last May, state media reported Saturday. According to the AP, Syrian troops and allied militiamen backed by Russian airstrikes have taken up positions in the modern part of town. Palmyra, affectionately known as the "bride of the desert," used to attract tens of thousands of tourists every year. ISIS drove out government forces in a matter of days and later demolished some of the best-known monuments at the UNESCO world heritage site. The extremists believe ancient ruins promote idolatry.
Retaking the town would be a major victory for President Assad's government and its allies, which have made steady gains in recent months against ISIS and other insurgents, including Western-backed rebels. The battle for Palmyra, now entering its fourth week, has not been easy. Government forces lost at least 18 soldiers on Friday alone, including a major general. Another 10 soldiers were killed Saturday. Footage broadcast on Lebanese stations aligned with the Syrian government showed smoke rising over Palmyra's skyline, as tanks and helicopters fired at positions inside the town. No civilians remain in the town, a Palmyra resident who left earlier this week told the AP. The fate of the archaeological site was not immediately clear.