ISIS now controls 50 percent of SyriaMay 21, 2015 in ISIS, Islamic State, Syria, Terrorism
Islamic State now controls over 50% of Syria, after its capture of the ancient city of Palmyra. The group took control of Palmyra on Wednesday after a week-long siege. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad collapsed away after at least 100 Syrian regime troops were killed overnight in fighting against ISIS. The terrorist group also reportedly began to massacre members of the Shaitat tribe, who had previously rebelled against ISIS in Deir Ezzor. At that time, ISIS killed 800 of their members. ISIS has imposed a curfew in the city and has conducted weeps to find remaining members of Assad’s forces. The capture of Palmyra brings Islamic State closer to the government controlled strongholds of Homs and Damascus. ISIS control of the ancient city also severs supply lines to Deir Ezzor.
ISIS also now has control of the Arak and al-Hail gas fields near Palmyra. These fields power most of the Syrian regime’s strongholds in the west. Control of these fields has given ISIS control over a large portion of the country’s electricity supply.
ISIS now controls over 95,000 square kilometres in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group controls majority of Raqqa province, which is the group’s de-facto “capital”, and also controls most of Deir Ezzor. ISIS has also taken parts of Hassakeh and the Aleppo countryside, as well as parts of the Homs countryside and the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus. The group also controls most of the Syrian Desert. The areas it holds are mostly sparsely inhabited.
Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once a Silk Road hub a cultural centres of the ancient world. It is home to beautiful ruins of antiquity, including the Temple of Bel, built in the first century. ISIS considers the preservation of historical ruins a form of idolatry. UN and Syrian officials fear that ISIS plans to destroy the ruins, as it did in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and in Iraq’s Mosul Museum. In the absence of opposition, the group can enter and destroy the historic city’s ancient ruins. ISIS has used the destruction of heritage sites as a form of profit; selling looted remnants of destroyed ruins on the black market. The group also uses the destruction of these sites as propaganda.
The cohesion and strength of Syrian troops has been called to question amid the fall of Palmyra. Forces fell away from the city rapidly, surprising many observers, considering the importance of Palmyra and its proximity to supply routes. Syria’s main cities, including Damascus, are located in the west, near the border with Lebanon or on the Mediterranean coastline. These cities have been the priority for the Syrian military. It appears the troops are focusing their attention on protecting areas to the west, rather than fighting for areas currently occupied by the terrorist group.