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The Syrian Army has reportedly taken control of a medieval castle overlooking the historic city of Palmyra. "Our armed forces, in co-ordination with the popular defence forces, have taken control of the ancient Palmyra citadel after inflicting many losses in the ranks of the terrorist group Daesh," the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported, citing a military source.
The government troops combed the hill after destroying the last Isis (Daesh) hideouts and dismantled the explosive devices the militants left behind, the source said. The Syrian army is also said to have cut off the main Palmyra-Deir Ezzor highway leading to the Iraqi border.
The Syrian military began the storm of the Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle or Palmyra Castle, which was the last strategic height in the city held by the jihadists, on Friday 25 March. The government troops combed the hill after destroying the last IS hideouts and dismantled the explosive devices the militants left behind, the source said.
Several Isis fighters were killed as the hill was taken, while the rest fled towards the city of Palmyra, leaving their weapons behind. A Syrian military source was quoted by AFP as saying the army had entered Palmyra from the north-west after taking control of part of the Valley of the Tombs.
"The clashes – which are ongoing – are fierce," he said.
However, Nasser of the Palmyra Media Centre, said that the reports are untrue and heavy clashes are still taking place. "The city of Palmyra is still under ISIL control, unlike what Syrian state media are reporting. Ongoing clashes are still taking place between ISIL fighters and the Syrian army. Intensive air strikes have been targeting several areas in Palmyra, especially the Palmyra-Deir al-Zour highway," Nasser told Al Jazeera.
The town of Palmyra and the surrounding areas are strategically important as whoever holds the town also controls the extensive areas of desert that stretches from central Syria to its border with Iraq.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that the Syrian army, backed by air strikes, has captured the Palmyra castle and that fighting was still ongoing outside the city.