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Syria army battles IS outside Palmyra – More than 4 million refugees have now fled Syria: UN

Syrian children who fled their home with their family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, lie on the ground while they and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz. —AP

Syrian children who fled their home with their family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, lie on the ground while they and others take refuge at the Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, in hopes of entering one of the refugee camps in Turkey, near the Syrian town of Azaz. —AP

BEIRUT: Syrian army troops backed by war planes advanced to within several kilometres of Palmyra yesterday, battling Islamic State group fighters outside the famed ancient city, a monitor said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops were now some five kilometres (three miles) west of the city and engaged in fierce clashes with forces from the extremist group. “Regime forces could enter the city at any moment, they are not far away and the area between them and the city is desert,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said. The Britain-based monitor said the fighting was accompanied by intensive regime air strikes on the city of Palmyra, which is famed for its ancient ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The group said civilians in Palmyra were fleeing the aerial bombardment, which has intensified in recent days. There was no immediate toll in the fighting or the air strikes, which have generally targeted the residential part of Palmyra, not its ancient sector. In Damascus, a security source confirmed the army had advanced to within several kilometres of Palmyra. “Yesterday, the army was able to make significant progress in advancing towards the city,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Fighting is continuing between the army and Daesh,” he added, using the Arabic acronym for IS. Official news agency SANA said air raids hit IS positions in Palmyra as well as on the outskirts of the Shaar gas field and other areas in Homs province.

IS forces overran Palmyra on May 21, after sweeping towards the city from their strongholds in eastern Deir Ezzor and northern Raqa. Their capture of Palmyra raised international concerns they might destroy the city’s ancient ruins, as they have in other places in Syria and Iraq. Though IS fighters have reportedly destroyed at least one statue, no damage to the ruins has been reported. However, the group carried out at least one mass execution of government soldiers in Palmyra’s famed ancient amphitheatre, later publishing footage of the killings online.

Exodus
More than 4 million Syrians have fled abroad since the 2011 outbreak of civil war, the largest number from any crisis in almost 25 years, the United Nations said yesterday. A recent wave of people leaving Syria and an update of Turkish statistics confirmed the tragic milestone, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. The agency said 7.6 million additional people have been displaced from their homes within Syria by the fighting. The 4 million refugees are the most to flee a conflict since the Afghan civil war forced 4.6 million out of their country beginning in 1992. “This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said. “It is a population that needs the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into poverty.” The flow of refugees is accelerating only 10 months after the agency said more than 3 million Syrians had fled their country. Turkey has borne much of the impact. In June alone, according to UNHCR, more than 24,000 people arrived from northern Syria amid fighting between the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants. —Agencies

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This article was published on 09/07/2015