Last May, the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) was seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) – three months later, the predominately Syriac Christian town of Qaryatayn – together with dozens of villages in eastern Homs – was captured during an aggressive offensive in early August.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) was forced to implement a large-scale retreat due to the number of enemy offensives launched around the country; these offensives included the Idlib, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, and Hama Governorates.
However, with the introduction of Russian airstrikes in late September, the momentum on the battlefield has once again shifted in favor of the government forces.
Subsequently, ISIS fighters have seen their frontlines overstretched, causing significant territorial losses at Al-Hasakah & Sinjar (northern Iraqi Kurdistan) to the Kurds, Tikrit & Baiji to the Iraqi Army and lately, the Kuweiris Airbase to the elite Tiger Forces of the SAA.
Furthermore, in the past weeks, the SAA has been able to recapture the al-Qadri farms, the northern perimeter of the Ancient Quarries of Palmyra, and most significantly the strategic hilltop of Tal SyriaTel which overlooks the western gates of the city.
The government forces have also secured the oil rich Al-Sha’er Gas Fields in the Al-Sha’er Mountains, which are located north of Palmyra and serve as a vital economic boost to the Syrian economy.
Effectively, this leaves government forces a mere 4 kilometers from Palmyra – reportedly within visible distance.
The tribes and civilians living inside of Palmyra have been heavily persecuted by the ISIS Shari’ah Council, who rules this territory with an iron fist; this has forced many Syrians to flee this area for safer quarters.
ISIS has not only terrorized the civilians of Palmyra, they have also destroyed the city’s history, bulldozing archaeological sites like the Baal Shamin Shrine.
Sadly, ISIS also destroyed three ancient funeral towers as well as at least seven tombs in September, while they proceeded to demolish the Arch of Triumph the following month.
All three places were priceless UNESCO heritage sites which apparently were deemed ‘un-Islamic’.
Despite the Syrian government proclaiming the Qalamoun as “liberated” in 2013, the region is still filled with militants that are allied to ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (Syrian Al-Qaed), who entered through Lebanon and continue to lurk in the mountains located on the Syrian-Lebanese border.
These militants regularly harass nearby government checkpoints and quickly vanish into the vast mountains that overlook the ‘Arsal District of Lebanon.
To counter Hezbollah’s large presence on the Syrian-Lebanese border, ISIS has launched an offensive of their own that is geared to reach the Qalamoun Mountains through the Quraytayn-Mahin-Sadad road.
On the 31st of October, ISIS managed to capture Huwwarin, Mahin and advanced as far as Sadad; all within hours, which completely overwhelmed the National Defence Forces (NDF).
However, upon hearing word of the imminent danger of these ancient Christian towns, further reinforcements of the local Homs NDF, alongside the Syriac “Sotooro” militia were rapidly redeployed to Sadad, which proved to be a major game changer.
On the 2nd of November, the Syrian Armed Forces secured Sadad’s safety after capturing the town of Maheen from ISIS; this put an end to ISIS’ large-scale offensive in eastern Homs.