The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that ISIS have taken control of almost all of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, a UNESCO landmark.
Update: The monitor group reported Thursday that ISIS seized most of the city, including an army intelligence outpost, a military airport and a prison.
“IS fighters are in all parts of Tadmur [Arabic name for Palmyra], including near the archaeological site,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The militants confirmed on Twitter that they gained full control over the ancient city, Reuters reported.
Palmyra is a World Heritage-listed city and one of the Middle East’s greatest archaeological sites.
Rising out of the desert, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, according to Unesco.
The site, most of which dates back to the 1st and 2nd Century when the region was under Roman rule, is dominated by a grand, colonnaded street.
The city was reportedly captured after bloody clashes with the Syrian Army on Wednesday.
Syria’s antiquities chief calls for international action to save city of Unesco site.
Syrian state television said pro-government militias were evacuating residents from the besieged city as clashes continued between Assad’s forces and Isis militants, Reuters reported.
ISIS militants entered Palmyra from the north earlier Wednesday and gained control of a local security office and a school, RT Arabic reported, сiting local sources. According to a correspondent reporting from Homs, there were clashes between the Syrian army and ISIS in the northern part of Palmyra, and the militants intensified shelling government forces’ positions.
Meanwhile, hundreds of statues have been moved from the Syrian Palmyra to locations safe from ISIS militants on Wednesday, Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim, told Reuters.
“Hundreds and hundreds of statues we were worried would be smashed and sold are all now in safe places,” Abdulkarim said. “The fear is for the museum and the large monuments that cannot be moved,” Abdulkarim added. “This is the entire world’s battle.”
Last week Islamic State militants battled with Syrian troops within 2 kilometers of Palmyra, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, raising fears the jihadists would completely wreck the site, which UNESCO describes as a landmark of “outstanding universal value.” Fierce fighting took the lives of 110 combatants, as the militants appeared to be very close to the ruins.
“Palmyra is under threat,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the Observatory director, warned last week.
The remains of the ancient caravan city of Palmyra stand in the middle of the desolate Tadmorean Desert in Syria.
Many fear that if Palmyra, which harbors the ruins of a great city that was once one of the world’s key cultural hubs, falls into the jihadists hands, it would suffer a fate of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, which they ruined earlier this year.
Last month a seven-minute video emerged, showing ISIS militants destroying the historic landmark, Nimrud, which dates back to the 13th century BC, near the Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul in northern Iraq. It showed the militants drilling away at sculptures believed to be some 3,000 years old.
Islamic State militants, who have created a self-proclaimed caliphate in northern Iraq and parts of Syria, previously declared that they deem the artifacts as idolatrous.