Russian airstrikes hit Palmyra

Published November 3rd, 2015 - 07:45 GMT

Russia's air force has struck the area around the Islamic State-held ancient city of Palmyra, the defense ministry said on Monday, as Moscow pressed on with its bombing campaign in Syria.

"Su-25 jets hit a fortified ISIS position in the Tadmur area of Homs province," Moscow's defense ministry said, according to the AFP news agency, using the Arabic name for Palmyra.

"As a result of a direct strike, a fortification, an underground bunker and anti-aircraft artillery were destroyed," it added.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said that Russian planes had targeted Palmyra with strikes on Monday.

He said several strikes hit the city's historic citadel, but had no further details.

Khaled al-Homsi, an activist from Palmyra, also reported Russian strikes on the citadel on the western edges of the historical site.

"The extent of the damage could not be verified," he told AFP.

The Russian defense ministry previously said its warplanes had struck close to the ancient city but insisted that it avoided historic sites.

Syrian state television said in early October that Russian warplanes, acting in coordination with the Syrian air force, had struck ISIS targets "in and around" the city.

ISIS, which has captured swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria to create a self-styled "caliphate" where it enforces an extreme form of Islamic rule, has destroyed ancient artifacts in Palmyra which it considers to be idolatrous.

In June, Islamic State blew up two ancient shrines in Palmyra that were not part of its Roman-era structures but which they regarded as pagan and sacrilegious.

ISIS also destroyed the Baal Shamin temple at Palmyra in late August and, a week later, destroyed the Temple Bel in the city, another heritage site.

ISIS has used Palmyra's grand amphitheatre for a massacre in which child members of the group killed 25 Syrian soldiers, execution-style, in front of residents.

It also beheaded Palmyra's 82-year-old former antiquities director in August. And last week, the jihadist group executed three people in the city by binding them to three historic columns and blowing them up.

By Ben Ariel

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