In comments reported by Syrian state TV, he said that the overthrow of IS 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 since May.
State TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that “the armed forces and groups of popular defence committees have fully taken control of Palmyra”. The popular defence committees are militias allied with the government.
The advance marks both a strategic and symbolic victory for the government. Its forces are now better positioned for a future advance on Raqqa, the IS group’s de facto capital.
IS drove government forces from Palmyra in a matter of days last May and later demolished some of the best-known monuments in the Unesco world heritage site, including two large temples dating back more than 1,800 years and a Roman triumphal archway.
The extremists have destroyed a number of historical sites across their self-declared caliphate, viewing such ruins as promoting idolatry.
Syrian culture minister Issam Khalil hailed the recapture of Palmyra as a “victory for humanity and right over all projects of darkness”.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, director of the government’s museums and antiquities department in Damascus, said damage to the Great Colonnade at Palmyra is minor. “We will rebuild what you have destroyed”, he said, addressing IS.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three weeks of fighting killed more than 400 IS fighters, as well as 180 troops and pro-government militiamen.
Russian jets carried out 40 air sorties near Palmyra in a 24-hour period, hitting 158 targets and killing over 100 militants, Russia’s defence minister said Saturday.
The government has also benefited from a US and Russian-brokered ceasefire that has sharply reduced violence across the country since it took effect last month. IS and the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front are excluded from the agreement.