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UNESCO head pleads for IS-threatened Palmyra

The ancient Syrian city of Palmyra is once again at risk of being overrun by "Islamic State" fighters. UNESCO has expressed concern for the city's population and cultural heritage.

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) called for an end to fighting in the historic Syrian city of Palmyra on Wednesday.

"I am deeply concerned by the situation at the site of Palmyra. The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East, and its civilian population," said Irina Bokova, UNESCO's Director General.

She called for an immediate cessation of hostilities at the site.

Earlier in the day, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) had taken control of parts of Palmyra. The incident marks the second time that

IS has taken parts of Palmyra

(also known as Tadmur in Arabic), after seizing the same neighborhoods for less than 24 hours earlier in May.

The militant group managed to seize a key government state security building and spread out throughout northern districts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Some accounts also mention an expansion into central parts of the city.

A rocket is launched near the city of Palmyra

Battles continue around the city of Palmyra

"IS fighters seized the northern parts of the city, which amount to a third of Palmyra," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Regime forces fled from these neighborhoods," he added.

Syrian state television reported that pro-government militia had removed citizens from the city, and that government forces had "confronted" IS aggressors, without commenting on the outcome. IS fighters were reportedly locked in fierce clashes with regime forces for many hours.

The Syrian city of Palmyra in the central Homs province features several world heritage site ruins as listed by UNESCO, which is in charge of protecting historic monuments regarded as universal human heritage. These include 2,000-year-old temples and colonnaded streets, mainly located in the city's southwest.

Syria's antiquities chief has said the insurgents would attempt to

destroy the ancient ruins and antiquities

if they took control of the city, as hostilities in Syria continue. He added that many statues had been moved to a safe location.

ses,mz/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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