ISIL enters Palmyra city limits in Syria: Monitor
BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoJihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) entered the northern city limits of ancient Palmyra May 20, seizing a state security building after intense fighting, a monitor said.
"The jihadists are once again in the north of Tadmur, after taking over the state security building," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP, using Palmyra's Arabic name.
"They also seized a checkpoint in the same area," he said.
ISIL's new advance comes after fierce clashes with Syrian government forces May 20 on the northern and eastern edges of Palmyra.
On May 16, ISIL seized most of Palmyra's northern neighbourhoods, but was pushed out by regime forces less than 24 hours later.
Fighting on May 20 raged near security buildings in northern Palmyra, and close to the city's notorious prison in the east.
The jihadist offensive on world heritage site Palmyra began on May 13 and has since left more than 350 people dead.
Mohammad, an activist originally from Palmyra, told AFP that the city was suffering from water shortages and intermittent electricity.
"A large number of people from the city's north have been displaced into other neighbourhoods. Some are sleeping in the streets," he said.
On May 18, ISIL jihadists seized two gas fields north of Palmyra that the regime had been using to generate electricity for areas under its control.
Antiquities officials fear that ISIL wants to destroy Palmyra's pre-Islamic cultural treasures, which include colonnaded streets and ancient citadels.
The city is also strategically located at the crossroads of key highways leading west to Damascus and Homs, and east to Iraq.
In Idlib, a regime air raid on the opposition-controlled village of Darkush left at least 22 civilians dead on May 19, the Observatory said.
Darkush lies on the Syrian-Turkish border, just 50 kilometres (30 miles) northwest of Ariha, one of the last remaining regime bastions in Idlib province.
Also on May 19, a rebel coalition including Al-Qaeda's Syria branch seized control of the Al-Mastumah camp -- the largest military base in Idlib.
A huge blast and fierce explosions rocked the site, and rebels swiftly overran the base as regime forces fled south to Ariha.
According to the Observatory and Syria's state television, a teacher was killed and at least 20 students wounded May 20 when mortar rounds landed on their school in Damascus.
Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-government demonstrations, but has evolved into a complex war that has left more than 220,000 people dead.