The Latest: Putin congratulates Assad on Palmyra victory


DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian army’s recapture of Palmyra (all times local):

5.00 p.m.

The Kremlin’s spokesman says Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Syrian President Bashar Assad on his army’s recapture of the ancient city of Palmyra.

In a telephone call, Putin “noted the importance of preserving this unique historical site for world culture,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying Sunday by Russian news agencies. “Putin once again stressed that despite the withdrawal of the bulk of Russia’s contingent from Syria, Russia’s armed forces will continue to help the Syrian authorities in their anti-terrorist efforts and liberation of their homeland from extremist groups.”

Russia has consistently denied claims that its airstrikes in Syria, which began in late September, are aimed at propping up Assad’s rule.

The government forces’ offensive on Palmyra came as Russia claimed to have run more than 100 warplane sorties in the area in the past week.

Peskov says that Assad “noted that successes such as the liberation of Palmyra would be impossible without Russia’s support.”

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3:30 p.m.

Syrian president Bashar Assad has described his army’s recapture of Palmyra as a “significant achievement.”

In comments reported by Syrian state TV Sunday, he said that the overthrow of the Islamic State group in the historic town offered “new evidence of the effectiveness of the strategy espoused by the Syrian army and its allies in the war against terrorism.”

Government forces had been on the offensive for nearly three weeks to try to retake the town, which is home to famed Roman-era ruins and was once one of Syria’s top tourist destinations. It had been in the hands of militants from IS group since May.

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8:30 a.m.

Syrian state media and an opposition monitoring group say government forces backed by Russian airstrikes have driven Islamic State fighters from the historic central town of Palmyra, held by the extremists since May.

Government forces have been on the offensive for nearly three weeks to try to retake the town, which is home to famed Roman-era ruins and was once one of Syria’s top tourist destinations.

State TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that “the armed forces and groups of popular defense committees have fully taken control of Palmyra.” The popular defense committees are militias allied with the government.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed IS has lost the town, saying there were many deaths among the extremists.