BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the fight against the Islamic State group (all times local):
Russian television is showing what it says is the first footage of Russian special forces fighting on the ground in Syria.
Elite Russian units in Syria take part in search and rescue operations, assassinations of key rebel figures and coordination of air strikes, according to footage broadcast on state-owned channel Rossiya 24 on Sunday. Groups of heavily armed soldiers were shown coordinating sniper attacks, using robotic tanks and inspecting rebel corpses.
The presenter of the weekly news program said the footage was filmed in Syria but did not give details.
Russia first acknowledged the presence of its special forces in Syria during the re-capture of the city of Palmyra from Islamic State fighters in March, but it has provided no information on the number of deployed soldiers or their exact location.
Syria’s official for antiquities and museums says his department had emptied the contents of Palmyra’s museum but he fears for the ruins of the ancient city after Islamic State militants re-occupied it.
Maamoun Abdulkarim told The Associated Press Sunday that after the government captured the ancient city from the militants in March following a 10-month occupation, the museum’s exhibits were all transferred to the capital. He says the militants had damaged the buildings, severed the heads of a number of statues, and dynamited and partially damaged two of the city’s temples and famous arc. But Abdulkarim said 80 percent of the city’s ruins were intact.
Abdulkarim said he believed that the extremist group is much weaker now than the first time they captured Palmyra. But he warned, “I fear they will be more vengeful.”
Syrian opposition activists say the Islamic State group has regained control of the ancient town of Palmyra nine months after it was driven out by Russian-backed Syrian government forces.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Palmyra Coordination group say IS militants fought their way into the town on Sunday, forcing government forces to retreat to the south.
Russia had earlier said that it helped Syrian troops repel an attack on the town by launching more than 60 airstrikes. IS has been advancing on the town in recent days, capturing areas on its outskirts at a time when Syrian forces are focused on driving rebels out of the northern city of Aleppo.
Russia says its air force has helped Syrian troops repulse an Islamic State attack on the historic town of Palmyra.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Sunday that it carried out 64 airstrikes overnight that killed 300 IS militants and destroyed the extremists’ vehicles and artillery.
Palmyra is home to towering 2,000-year-old ruins and was a major tourist attraction before the civil war broke out in 2011. IS seized the town last year and held it for 10 months before being driven out by Russian-backed Syrian forces in March.
The militants have advanced on Palmyra in recent days, with reports of heavy fighting within the town itself. Syria’s army has been largely focused on the northern city of Aleppo, where it is waging a major offensive against Syrian rebels.