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Reports of Syrian airstrikes on 'Islamic State' in Palmyra

Government aircraft have reportedly launched airstrikes in Palmyra, following the ancient city's fall to "Islamic State" (IS) fighters last week. Some of the strikes were apparently near world heritage sites.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least four people had been killed in the Monday raids, which were the most intense since IS jihadists overran the city last Thursday.

"Since this morning, government aircraft have carried out at least 15 air strikes in Palmyra and the areas around it," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The strikes targeted several areas of the city, including some close to the city's famed Greco-Roman ruins, a UNESCO world heritage site, he said.

A Syrian military source confirmed operations were under way in Palmyra and its outskirts: "Military operations, including air raids, are ongoing in the area around Al-Suknah, Palmyra, the Arak and Al-Hail gas fields and all the roads leading to Palmyra," said the unnamed source.

Mass executions

The "Islamic State" is accused of executing hundreds of people in the area since the group swept into the oasis city last week - after advancing across the desert from its stronghold in the Euphrates Valley.

The Observatory said on Sunday that it had documented the executions of at least 217 people, among them 67 civilians, including 14 children. Some of those killed had been beheaded, Abdel Rahman said, adding that the jihadists had also taken some 600 people captive.

Syrien Kampf gegen IS

The Syrian government has also used rocket launchers against IS from outside Palmyra

Call for heritage protection

Also on Sunday, a call was made by Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim seat of learning based in Cairo, for the world to protect Palmyra, which it described as "one of the most important archeological cities in the Middle East."

Al-Azhar's plea regarding Palmyra comes in the wake of recent IS destruction in Mosul and Nimrud in Iraq, and in other areas of Syria under the group's control.

"Protecting archeological sites from destruction and plundering is the battle of all humanity," the group implored.

glb/ng (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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