Early in the morning (Tuesday), ISIS reportedly called on civilians to flee the city through the loudspeakers of Palmyra. This comes as government forces have captured the ancient city’s outskirts and advanced to within a kilometer of Palmyra’s western gates.
While the city did hold 70.000 civilians prior to ISIS seizing Palmyra in May 2015, all but 15.000 civilians have fled; these residents have now been requested to leave for other “secure caliphate areas”.
However, with the 15.000 Syrians who remained inside the city mostly too poor to pay for travel costs as of last May, they are unlikely to be able to pay for transportation now.
Currently, clashes are continuing on the edge of Hayy al-Gharf neighborhood, southwest of the city, as the Russian Air Force is aiding every move made by various pro-government forces. Just yesterday, the Syrian Arab Army captured Tar mountain which overlooks Palmyra city.
Meanwhile, ISIS explosives and mines planted around the city are obstructing the Syrian Government’s efforts to recapture the city. However, with over government 6.000 soldiers deployed, ISIS seems unlikely to be able to defend the city for long.
With the Islamic State enforcing harsh religious laws upon the local populace for close to a year, ISIS fighters have also launched a systematic campaign of destruction on the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, blowing up temples and looting relics dating back 2,000 years. Meanwhile, dozens have been publicly beheaded inside Palmyra’s ancient amphitheater.
If government troops are able to recapture Palmyra, this would not only spell a huge symbolic victory, it would also allow for pushes towards either ar-Raqqa or Deir Ezzor. The situation in the latter city is critical with approximately 100.000 civilians in government-held areas under complete ISIS-siege.