Palmyra, Syria
It is feared the ancient city of Palmyra will be destroyed if it falls into the hands of Isis Getty Images

A Syrian official claims that the ancient city of Palmyra is safe, and Islamic State (Isis) militants had pulled out of areas near the site they seized on Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that IS had pulled out of northern parts of the adjoining modern city Tadmur they took earlier, but still held an area north of the city and a village east of the city, reports Reuters.

Palmyra is the location of one of the most important ancient sites in the Middle East: 2,000 year old ruins which contain a unique combination of ancient Roman and Persian architectural styles.

There were fears that if Isis were to take the Unesco World Heritage Site, it would suffer the same fate as ancient sites in Iraq that have been bulldozed or blown up by the extremist Sunni organisation.

Governor Talal Barazi of Homs province said that Syrian forces recaptured two hills overlooking the city from IS fighters on Saturday, and that reinforcements had been sent to bolster government forces in the area.

"Palmyra is safe and the road linking Homs with Palmyra is absolutely safe," he later told the state-run news agency SANA.

Nearly 300 people have been killed in four days of fierce fighting near the site.

The majority of those killed were militants or Syrian army fighters, but 57 civilians were also killed, including scores executed by Isis, said the Observatory.

Palmyra sits on the strategically vital crossroads to the cities of Homs and the capital, Damascus.