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'Islamic State' controls half of Syria after Palmyra occupation, says monitor

After capturing Ramadi in Iraq, the "Islamic State" militant group has seized the city of Palmyra, marking the group's second strategic victory in less than a week. The group controls more than half of Syria's territory.

The "Islamic State" (IS) controls approximately 95,000 square kilometers (roughly 37,000 square miles) in Syria, more than half of the country, after taking control of Palmyra, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the observatory, told the DPA news agency that the situation looks bleak.

"There has been no electricity in the city for the past four days," he said. "Most hospitals have a shortage of essential medicines."

The militant group gained control of Palmyra after Syrian government forces retreated Wednesday.

IS also took control of the city's military air base and prison.

Residents trapped inside

The move marks a strategic military victory for the armed group, as Palmyra lies at the crossroads of major roadways connecting Damascus and Homs to the country's eastern regions.

Talal Barazi, governor of Homs province, told AP news agency that although many residents attempted to flee the IS' onslaught, many were still trapped inside the city after the militant group implemented a curfew.

Fewer than 1,500 of Palmyra's 65,000 residents were able leave the city before IS took over, the governor added.

"We hope that there will be no massacres in the city or damage to the ruins," Barazi said.

Palmyra marks the second strategic victory for the group in less than a week after it took hold of Ramadi in Iraq on Sunday.

Ramadi remains a flashpoint city for Iraqi government forces supported by a US-led coalition against IS.

ls/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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