A week after regaining control of the heritage city of Palmyra from Islamic State (Isis) militants, Syrian troops have succeeded in capturing another Syrian town, al-Qaryatain, which is located 100km west of Palmyra. According to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the IS (Daesh)-controlled town was raided by more than 40 air strikes by Russian and Syrian war planes on Sunday, 3 April.
Reuters reported that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces are in control of more than half the town. Assad's troops are continuing a fight with the IS militants in the north and southeast parts of al-Qaryatain, the observatory, which keeps track of the five-year-old Syrian civil war, was further reported as saying.
The government army has reportedly cleared areas northwest of al-Qaryatain of explosives and mines planted by the IS militants, a Syrian military source was reportedly quoted as saying to Sana state news agency. The Syrian military termed the victory over al-Qaryatain as a strategic one as it will enable them to secure oil and gas routes between capital Damascus and oilfields in the eastern part of the country, according to a military statement read out on Syrian television.
Al-Qaryatain, which is located halfway between Palmyra and Damascus, is also vital to the Syrian troops because the town served as the main base to IS fighters in central Syria. Using al-Qaryatain as their base, the Syrian army can disrupt IS supply routes within the country and can launch attacks on other IS-captured towns near the Iraqi border.
The IS militants took control of al-Qaryatain in August 2015 and were reported to have demolished the Christian monastery of Saint Eliane, near the town. The militants reportedly took around 200 of the town's residents captive and moved some of them to their de facto capital in Raqqa, which is still in complete control of the IS militants.
Citing activists, the Washington Post reported that al-Qaryatain was inhabited by about 40,000 people, including Sunni Muslims, Christians and some migrants who fled into the town from the nearby city of Homs. Many Christians reportedly fled the town after IS gained control and started torturing non-Muslims.