Months after ISIS was pushed out of Palmyra, the extremist group is again fighting for the Syrian city in the face of heavy air strikes by Russia's military. After early reports that ISIS had retaken the city, activists are now reporting that ISIS elements withdrew to escape air raids.
From Beirut, NPR's Alice Fordham reports:
"Russia's defense ministry says its warplanes along with the Syrian army repelled all attacks on Palmyra. In a statement carried in Russian media, Russia said it conducted 64 airstrikes and killed 300 militants. It also said ISIS were using car bombs and rockets.
"The U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition says it also conducted a huge attack on ISIS close to Palmyra last week. Still, the offensive by the extremists is in itself a surprise. They were pushed out of Palmyra in March and are under intense pressure in their strongholds of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq."
In addition to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Palmyra is situated near large oil fields in central Syria that have been a key objective for both ISIS fighters and Syria's government.
On Saturday, members of the Syrian army fled from ISIS attacks and withdrew south of the city, according to a Voice of America report citing the monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Today, the Britain-based monitoring group says Russian warplanes have continued an intense bombing campaign in the city, forcing ISIS fighters to move north and west of Palmyra.