Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes drove Islamic State fighters from Palmyra on Sunday, reports the AP, ending the group's 10-month reign of terror over a town whose famed 2,000-year-old ruins once drew tens of thousands of visitors each year. Government forces had been on the offensive for nearly three weeks to retake the town, known as the "Bride of the Desert," which fell to the extremists in May. Their advance marks the latest in a series of setbacks for ISIS, which has come under mounting pressure on several fronts in Iraq and Syria in recent months. Gen. Ali Mayhoub said on state TV that the fall of Palmyra "directs a fatal blow to (ISIS), undermines the morale of its mercenaries, and ushers in the start of its defeat and retreat." He said it lays the ground for further advances toward Raqqa, ISIS' de facto capital, and Deir el-Zour, an eastern city it largely controls.
Troops in Palmyra are now dismantling explosive booby traps planted by ISIS. State TV and a Britain-based monitoring group later reported that troops captured a military base to the east. The town was an important juncture on an ISIS supply line connecting its territory in Syria to Iraq's Anbar province. State TV showed the rubble left from the destruction of the Temple of Bel as well as the damaged archway, the supports of which were still standing. It said a statue of Zenobia, the 3rd century queen who figures strongly in Syrian lore, was missing. Many of the Roman colonnades, however, were still standing. Syrian Culture Minister Issam Khalil hailed the "victory for humanity and right over all projects of darkness." An antiquities director said Palmyra's Great Colonnade had suffered only minor damage. "We will rebuild what you have destroyed," he said of ISIS.