Earlier this year, Russia flew an orchestra into Syria's ancient city of Palmyra to celebrate its liberation from the Islamic State. On Sunday, militants recaptured the city from Syrian troops, according to both sides in the battle, scoring a major advance after a year of setbacks in Syria and neighboring Iraq, reports AP. In winning back Palmyra, ISIS appeared to be taking advantage of the Syrian and Russian preoccupation with Aleppo, timing its attack to coincide with a major government offensive to capture the last remaining opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city. Palmyra, with its towering 2,000-year-old ruins, holds mostly symbolic meaning in the wider civil war, although its location in central Syria also gives it some strategic significance.
Islamic State militants re-entered the city Saturday for the first time since they were expelled by Syrian and Russian forces amid much fanfare nine months ago. The government's first important win against ISIS in the historic city gave Damascus the chance to try to position itself as part of the global anti-terrorism campaign. Palmyra was a major tourist attraction before Syria's civil war began in 2011. Sunday's takeover came hours after government troops and Russian air raids pushed the group out the city's perimeter. Militants later regrouped and attacked from multiple sides, forcing government troops to retreat. (Read more Syria stories.)