Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

ISIS Entrenches in Palmyra… Aleppo Awaits | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian army soldiers stand on the ruins of the Temple of Bel in the historic city of Palmyra. Reuters: Omar Sanadiki, file photo

Beirut: Four days following its unanticipated attack, ISIS fighters have entrenched in Palmyra and took full control of the city, its airport, ancient city and its ancient castle.

Regime forces were therefore forced to retreat to the southwestern desert despite Russia’s extensive airstrikes.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIS sent more than 300 members to Palmyra’s fronts and the countryside of the eastern Homs province. It also said ISIS had earlier brought 500 members from Iraq to Raqqa.

The Observatory said the fighters were sent following a meeting held between leader of Jaysh al-Sham (The Army of the Levant) and ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The two men asserted that from now on, reinforcements would be sent consecutively in light of the dire military situation of ISIS fighters at Syria’s different fronts.

Both the Observatory and Homs Media Center said ISIS was capable to quickly control the ancient city of Palmyra because it relied on the factor of “promptness” in its attack on the area, which was almost empty from regime forces who were busy fighting in Aleppo.

Sham Network reported on Sunday that regime forces brought large military reinforcements to the outskirts of Palmyra, including foreign militias who were fighting in Aleppo’s fronts.

The Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman told Ahsarq Al-Awsat that the regime does not possess the sufficient tools to fight on several fronts in Syria. “The regime was also confident that ISIS was on its way to collapse, therefore it mobilized its members to Aleppo’s fronts. Later, Syria’s forces were surprised by the attack on the city of Palmyra,” Abdel Rahman said.

Mohammad Al-Sibai, spokesperson of the Homs Media Center told Asharq Al-Awsat that regime forces prevented Homs residents from fleeing the city, particularly young men who were arrested in large numbers. Al-Sibai said he expected regime forces to send those young men back to Homs and force them to fight at the Palmyra fronts.

“Regime forces only allow the exit of residents who pay money,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russia announced to have repelled an ISIS attack on Palmyra, saying it had launched 64 airstrikes overnight that killed 300 militants. But hours later, the activists said ISIS had seized a castle just outside the town that overlooks its famed Roman-era ruins.

Separately, civilians trapped in eastern Aleppo were waiting on Sunday the U.S. and Russian final decision concerning their situation.

Opposition officials with Aleppo rebel groups told Reuters on Sunday that the U.S. and Russia tabled a proposal to rebels in Aleppo that would offer safe passage from the city for fighters, their families and other civilians.

However, Russia later denied that any deal had been reached, saying that reports of the proposal do not “necessarily correspond with reality”.

The proposal would also require fighters from the jihadist group formerly known as Nusra Front to head to the northwestern province of Idlib. But it would allow fighters from other groups to go to other destinations including areas near the Turkish border to the northeast of Aleppo, which are held by groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army.

However, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia Today that “Washington insists on unacceptable conditions concerning the ceasefire.”