A foothold in the wilderness: what does the release of Palmyra

Syrian army after several days of street fighting in the morning of the resurrection fully captured the city of tadmur in HOMS province. For ten months, the city and the nearby ruins of the ancient Palmyra was under the control of militants of the banned in Russia “Islamic state” (ISIS). The Palmyra liberation from the Islamists could become one of the pivotal events in the civil war in Syria, reaching its sixth year.

What does the capture of Palmyra for war with ISIS?

And for the government of Bashar al-Assad and the “Islamic state” Tadmor was an important strategic point. The city is situated on the road leading to the banks of the Euphrates, and from thence to raqqa, the unofficial capital of the Caliphate. In addition, here is one of the six airports in Syria, which before the capture of the city by militants were used by government forces for military purposes.

The city is located almost in the geographical center of Syria, in the center of the intersection of major roads linking the East and West of the country. The route connects the capital Damascus and HOMS with the center of the oil industry Deir ez-Zor, parts of which still hold Islamists besieged by government forces. The topography in the area of Tadmor also determines the importance of the settlement: the town itself lies in a hollow, but around it — the height of which controlled a vast territory through which the road key. Finally, into the desert areas to the North of this area there are key oil and gas fields of the country. After the loss to the city mode was controlled by only one gas field in HOMS.

Palmira because of its location — the only possible logistics base for the North in Deir ez-Zor, and by LIH — in the direction of Damascus, says Nikolay Sukhov from the Centre for Arab and Islamic studies of the Institute of Oriental studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “It’s obvious advantageous position, so for this item and conducted such fights,” he explains.

The control of main roads facilitates the flow of goods to the regions that joined the ceasefire and political process. The command of the Syrian Armed forces has already stated that it will use the Tadmor as a springboard for further advance in these areas, reports on Monday, Reuters, citing Syrian state media. In the same report it was announced that after the liberation of the surrounding territories from the militants opened and Palmyra airport.

About the meaning of Tadmor in the military operation, said the fact that the militants who took the city in may last year, by the summer captured almost half of the territory of Syria. Losing Tadmor and Palmyra, the militants suffered the most serious defeat since the announcement of the “Islamic state” in 2013. Palmyra they “automatically lose control over the vast Syrian desert,” – said the head of the Syrian monitoring centre for human rights Abdel Rahman, quoted by Die Welt.”There is a feeling that the existence of ISIL in Syria is coming to an end,” agrees Sukhov. According to him, the defeat would affect the morale of the Islamists: “will Deteriorate the image, it will reduce the flow of new manpower from abroad, will increase desertion”.

But the Western-backed armed Syrian opposition has cautiously reacted to the success of government troops. “I have one fear, the ceasefire will allow the Assad regime to absorb what is left of Syria, freeing the territory controlled by ISIL and (banned in Russia) “dzhebhat EN-Nusra”, — quotes Reuters Riyadh Nassau ASU, member of the Higher Committee on negotiations of the Syrian opposition. The ceasefire between the troops of Assad and the opposition came into force on 27 February, since then clashes between the two sides almost came to naught. ISIL is not a party to peace talks and a ceasefire on his militia does not apply.

For the liberation of Palmyra Russia has done?

The two-week government offensive army at Palmyra was undertaken with the support group Russian VC. Ground before the first attack, on 9 March, the Russian planes caused the preparatory air strike on ISIS positions, and in the subsequent week with the support of Russian aircraft and helicopters to the Assad troops managed to cut off one of the supply lines of terrorists — highway, going North to the village of Yttrium. In addition, as part of a widespread two-way assault on the city, Russian VKS helped to control supply routes and retreat of ISIS in Northern and Eastern directions.

Just since March 20, according to the defense Ministry, the VC group had only 121 sorties in the area of Palmyra and launched over 400 attacks on the ISIL, killing 500 terrorists.

The special role of Russian attack helicopters said the representative of the political Department of the Syrian army General Samir Suleiman. In an interview with Sputnik, he said that the Russian reconnaissance and helicopter gunships have destroyed an ambush of terrorists on the heights around Palmyra. Suleiman did not specify whether he participated in the ground operation of the Russian military. Earlier, the head of the Syrian campaign, Colonel-General Aleksandr Dvornikov said that in Syria there are ground forces of special operations. The tasks of these units includes exploration of objects, guidance of airplanes and “other special tasks”.

In addition to the Russian air force in the attack on Palmyra was used by the Russian arms, passed to the Syrian side. The government army has deployed a missile volley of fire “Hurricane”, heavy flamethrower system “Sun” and 122-mm howitzer D-30.

Probably, the Russian aircraft will continue to support the government forces to further attack. According to the Syrian Observatory for human rights (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights), the Russian aviation, with the support of which was developed the current offensive of the government troops, has already launched a missile and bomb strikes on targets of the ISIS along highways East of Tadmor.

What forces remained in Syria:

After the order of President Vladimir Putin, on 14 March, to withdraw a part of group of the Russian VKS from Syria most of the planes left the airbase Hamim in the province of Latakia. According to the magazine Jane’s Defence Weekly, the Russian team retained the core of the su-24 bombers and complements existing Park several attack helicopters Mi-28N and Ka-52. The magazine published a satellite photo taken March 20, five days after the start of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria. In the picture are clearly visible four multifunctional fighter su-34, three of the latest fighter generation “4++” su-35 jets, three su-30, ten su-24 bombers and two helicopters Ka-52. Experts say that maybe it’s not the full composition of the groups, because at that time some planes can be on combat missions.

In addition to the air group, remained at the base of the air defense system “Armour C-1”, designed for close air and ground cover, and anti-aircraft missile system large and medium-range s-400. According to experts, maintain, and manage on the basis of the existing equipment will be 200-300 people civilian staff and about 2 thousand soldiers.

What’s left of Palmyra?

After the liberation of Palmyra, the question arose about the reconstruction of the jihadists of the world heritage of UNESCO. Preserved from antiquity of the buildings were destroyed in the framework of the ISIS campaign against paganism and idolatry.

The first object, blown up ISIS became the temple of the Phoenician God Baal-Shamin Roman times. Then the temple was destroyed Bela, funerary towers, including the best preserved of them tower Lobella (early II century), and then the antique and triumphal arch (the end of II century). Historic colonnade was also blown up – before the explosion the columns were tied sentenced to death.

The Temple Of Bel

Arc de Triomphe

UNESCO is now only assesses the situation of cultural heritage in Palmyra, said the official representative of the UNESCO office in Beirut (monitoring the situation in Syria) Jad Merhi. In September 2015, the Director of the Department of antiquities and museums of Syria Maamoun Abdulkarim said that the recovery of the Syrian cultural heritage, destroyed ISIL, will cost “billions of dollars”.

According to the Director General of UNESCO Irina Bokova, the UNESCO experts will go to Palmyra as soon as possible from the point of view of security. Together with the Syrian side, they must assess the damage caused to the monuments. “UNESCO will do everything in its power to document the destruction of Palmyra,” said Bokova.

According to Abdulkarim, works on restoration of ancient monuments could start in the course of the year, they may take about five years. Syrian experts will travel to Palmyra today, in order to photograph and document all the destruction, he said. 80% of the ruins of Palmyra heritage – “in good condition”, said Abdulkarim AFP.

On March 27, in a telephone conversation with the Russian Side, President Vladimir Putin assured that the representatives of the Russian military contingent will participate in the clearing of ancient Palmyra. Monday, March 28, the General Director of the State Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky said that the Hermitage is ready to assist in the development of the reconstruction project of the Syrian Palmyra — the Museum will provide materials on the history of Palmyra and Russian experience of heritage restoration. “We, as custodians of the heritage of the Palmyra — Palmyra we have a large collection — will help to study the situation and make recommendations so that this monument became a monument of culture and of victory over bigotry, not “novodel” tourist object”, — said Piotrovsky TASS.

With the participation of Georgi Makarenko

Sources of photos: Global Look Press, REUTERS2016, Valery Sharifulin/TASS