Beirut, Paris – More than eight months after being kicked out by government forces, ISIS returned on Saturday to the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria. Their move came while Syrian regime forces advanced in the dying east Aleppo and while Turks backed by the International Coalition had tightened the grip on ISIS in the two cities of al-Bab and Raqqa.
All the military reinforcements brought by the Syrian regime forces and their linked militias had not succeeded to stop the advancement of ISIS towards Palmyra.
ISIS was capable on Saturday to shoot down a Syrian warplane near Palmyra, according to some reports which also stated that the jet was a MiG-23 owned by the Syrian regime.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that ISIS armed militants re-entered Palmyra after they had taken strategic heights near the city and captured its northern part along with major silos and mountains around it.
The Observatory quoted activists as saying that ISIS “attacked the Palmyra with heavy machineguns and missiles.” It added that the Syrian army had sent reinforcements to Palmyra.
The Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP on Saturday “many civilians are trapped under the flames of battles in the city.”
ISIS’ assault against Palmyra began late on Thursday after the terrorist organization took grain silos and controlled some oil and gas fields around the city.
Expert in Islamic movements’ affairs Abdul-Jalil Saeed told Asharq al-Awsat that “ISIS masters the game of mixing cards and knows how to invest in the soft sides.”
Saeed said ISIS had used the regime’s advancement in Aleppo to recapture areas the group had previously controlled.
Retired General Ahmad Rahhal said it is clear that the priority of the Assad regime was not to fight ISIS, but an attempt to quickly get rid of the moderate opposition.
And while in Aleppo the fate of hundreds of civilians who had fled the regime-controlled areas west the city remains unknown, a meeting of the “joint core” held in Paris on Saturday decided to place the file of civilians behind their back and to exert pressure on the opposition to return to the negotiation table with no pre-conditions.
Surprisingly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Russia and the Syrian regime on Saturday to show “little grace” and “sympathy” for civilians and for Aleppo.