ISIS jihadists have re-entered the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra just eight months after they were chased out by regime forces.
The jihadists have launched an offensive in recent days close to the town, which is on UNESCO’s world heritage list.
The Syrian army was battling to keep them out of the city on Friday, after the rebel fighters first tested their defences on Thursday, but ISIS terrorists have managed to break through and regain part of the city.
The anti-Isis Palmyra Coordination group, which is monitoring activity on the ground, said terrorists approached from ‘more than one axis’ on Saturday.
‘ISIS controls the northern and western north neighbourhoods of Palmyra,’ the group said, adding that civilians were in a state of ‘fright and fear’ as battles raged.
The ISIS terrorists were also targeting the city’s ancient citadel.
If ISIS manages to take back control of Palmyra, it will be a huge symbolic gain following months of losses across Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce fighting was continuing on the ground, while at the same time the Syrian air force has launched air strikes against ISIS terrorists, he said.
The Syrian army is now facing a battle on two fronts, as troops are already fighting to liberate the ISIS-controlled city of Raqqa.
American forces are sending an additional 200 troops to join the 300 US service personnel already involved in the mission.
They will support an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters battling to repel jihadists from the northern Syrian city.
Raqqa, which had a pre-war population of 240,000, is the de facto capital of the self-styled caliphate ISIS declared across Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) officials said US soldiers would be ‘on the front lines’ of the push for the northern city.
The announcement came after US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter told a security forum in Bahrain that Washington was sending the additional troops to Syria.
These will include bomb disposal experts and trainers, as well as special forces personnel.
SDF spokesman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed said forces will ‘begin phase two of the campaign, which aims to liberate territory west of Raqqa and isolate the city’.
Ahmed said the SDF had captured 270 square miles of territory since it began its advance on the city on November 5.
The alliance had also grown in size, he said, with more than 1,500 local fighters joining forces with the SDF after being ‘trained and equipped by the international coalition’.
And he said the SDF’s coordination with the US-led coalition will be ‘stronger and more effective during the second phase of the campaign’.