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Saturday, March 19

SAA coalition fighters reach Palmyra Highlands; Russian airstrikes continue on IS and al Qaeda

"The Russian Air Force makes an average of 20-25 sorties per day lending support to the operation aimed at liberating Palmyra, the spokesman said, stressing that Russia will continue to carry out airstrikes targeting IS and Al Nusra Front in Syria." - from March 18 RT, third report below

From AMN March 19:

The Syrian Arab Army’s “Tiger Forces” – backed by Hezbollah, Liwaa Imam ‘Ali (Iraqi paramilitary), the Desert Hawks Brigade, and the Syrian Marines – launched a late-night assault in western Palmyra on Friday, striking the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham’s (ISIS) positions at the southeastern slopes of Jabal Hayyal.

According to a report from a field correspondent in the Palmyra countryside, the Syrian Armed Forces and their allies broke-through ISIS’ front-lines and advanced as far east as the Palmyra Highlands that overlook the Qatari Royal Villa. 

The Palmyra Highlands begin at the southeastern ridge of Jabal Hayyal and end at the ancient city’s gates.


From FARS March 18:
TEHRAN (FNA)- Syrian and Russian fighter jets kept on pounding ISIL terrorists' positions around the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) on Friday as army troops pressed on their ground advance against the terrorists, military sources said.

"Russian and Syrian warplanes are bombarding ISIL positions and their lines of communication near Palmyra," said a battlefield source.

"These strikes facilitated the advance of the Syrian ground troops towards Palmyra as they keep cutting their distance to the ancient city," the source added.

Reports said fierce battles are underway between pro-government forces and ISIL militants around Palmyra and Quaryatayn, as the Army has managed to establish control over more points near Mahasa village.

Meanwhile, Syrian warplanes have been conducting airstrikes on ISIL positions in the city of Palmyra and around Hayal Mountain.

The ISIL seized Palmyra in Eastern Syria last May, which is among UNESCO World Heritage Sites known as the "Pearl of the Desert", however Syrian Army troops now seem to be committed to liberate the city from the grip of the terrorist group.

Earlier on Friday, the ISIL terrorist group lost one of its top Saudi commanders during clashes in Eastern suburb Plamyra (Tadmur) city in Homs province, on Thursday, in a development seen as a major breakthrough for the Syrian army.

The senior ISIL militant, Sultan bin Abdul Rahman, was a Saudi national who joined the terrorist group in 2014.

He was killed when the Syrian army forces as a part of their large-scale operation to take back the city of Tadmur raided ISIL fortifications in the Eastern areas just outside the city.

Abdul Rahman occupied several positions in ISIL and al-Qaeda and had fought with al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechenya and Algeria before going to Syria.


From RT March 18

All conditions are in place to surround and defeat Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) in Palmyra, Syria, Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the main operations department of the Russian General Staff, told reporters.

“Everything necessary has been provided for the encirclement and definitive defeat of IS armed groups in Palmyra,” Rudskoy said, adding that the Syrian Army had already taken control over all dominant heights and major roads around the city. The terrorists’ logistical support has also been cut off.

The Syrian army and patriotic opposition fighters, backed by the Russian Air Force, are conducting a large-scale operation to liberate the city.

The Russian Air Force makes an average of 20-25 sorties per day lending support to the operation aimed at liberating Palmyra, the spokesman said, stressing that Russia will continue to carry out airstrikes targeting IS and Al Nusra Front in Syria.

Last week, Syrian government forces and people’s militia groups backed by Russian airstrikes managed to come close to the city. On Thursday, they reportedly entered the Palmyra museum complex.

Russia is withdrawing most of its forces from Syria and ending its five-month anti-terror operation launched on September 30, 2015. The decision was taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 14, who said that the operation’s objectives have been largely achieved.

Russia’s backing allowed Syrian forces to free 400 populated areas and over 10,000 square kilometers [3,860 square miles], Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said when he reported to Putin on March 14, adding that terrorists had been forced out of Latakia and Aleppo provinces while Palmyra was "blocked."

Russia also continues to monitor observance of the ceasefire with more than 70 drones. The Russian Defense Ministry reiterated there had been a sustained decrease in the number of ceasefire violations adding that Russia’s ceasefire monitoring center recorded only five such cases over the last 24 hours in comparison to “dozens of violations” recorded earlier.

On Thursday, Putin said Russia could deploy its forces back to Syria within a matter of hours if necessary, although he stressed that Moscow would not want to see such a development. With regards to Palmyra, Putin said that he hoped for the city to be returned to the Syrian people.

Following up on the president's comment, the Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov clarified that Russian forces are not involved in a military operation surrounding the ancient city.

“The offensive is conducted by Syrian armed forces. What the president said was that the campaign has significantly strengthened the Syrian armed forces, which are now able to independently continue the offensive,” Peskov told reporters.


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