DAMASCUS, May 14 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian government forces backed by the air force are engaged in battles against the Islamic State (IS) group at the outskirts of the millennia-old oasis city of Palmyra in central Syria, the state news agency SANA said Thursday, as another army unit hoisted the Syrian flag atop the peak in a contested rugged region near the Lebanese borders.
The army unites are hunting down the terrorists of the IS group at the eastern and northern outskirts of Palmyra in the eastern countryside of Homs province, said SANA, adding that the air force also took part in the battles and killed tens of the IS fighters during intensive airstrikes.
Citing a military source, SANA said the army units were engaged in violent battles against the IS militants, who attempted to infiltrate towns near Palmyra one day earlier and committed massacres against the civilians.
The oppositional Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the IS militants executed at least 26 people near Palmyra.
The IS militants killed 26 people, 10 of whom were beheaded, in the villages of Amiriyeh and Sukhneh near Palmyra, the UK-based monitor group said, adding that some of the people were killed on charges of working for the government forces.
The UK-based watchdog group said intense battles between the Syrian government forces and the IS have been raging at the outskirts of Palmyra, leaving 15 IS militants killed.
The IS militants had managed to enter some buildings at the eastern outskirts of Palmyra, before the Syrian army dislodged them and recaptured the buildings, it added.
Meanwhile, the official Syrian TV cited a military source as saying that the Syrian air forces have launched focused strikes against the IS militants, who attempted to infiltrate the southern parts of Sukhneh, some 70 km east of Palmyra, killing many of them.
The IS push toward Palmyra threatens the archaeological sites in that city, as it contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.
From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences, according to the UNESCO.
Syria has many prehistoric, Greek, Byzantine and Islamic heritages. Before the crisis, Syria had attracted many multinational archaeological missions coming for searching new clues of historical facts on the development of civilizations.
The UNESCO has listed six Syrian sites on the World Heritage List, including the old cities of Damascus and Aleppo, al-Madhiq castle, the Krak des Chevaliers, the ancient city of Bosra and Palmyra and the ancient villages in northern Syria.
While battles were raging near Palmyra, the Syrian forces hoisted the Syrian flag Thursday atop the highest peak in a mountainous range, they captured a day earlier with the help of the Lebanese Hezbollah group near the Lebanese borders, following battles against the extremist militants of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and likeminded groups.
"By the might of the Syrian army and the Lebanese resistance, Tallet Musa was purged yesterday from the armed terrorists," a military officer told Xinhua.
The recapture of Tallet Musa hilltop in Qalamoun mountain range, north of the capital Damascus and near Lebanon, has enabled the Syrian forces and Hezbollah to expose the rebels' positions in the surrounding areas, the officer said on condition of anonymity.
The strategic peak, with an altitude of almost 2,616 meters above sea level, also overlooks the Lebanese Arsal and Bekka areas.
Arsal is inhabited by sympathizers of the Syrian militants.
Military Experts said the control of Tallet Musa opened the way for Hezbollah and the Syrian army to advance to the north toward the Arsal-Jraijr, the main illegal border point between Syria and Lebanon.
By retaking Tallet Musa, which is one km from the Lebanese borders, the Syrian forces also managed to control three or four illegal routes into Lebanon, experts added.
The fresh progress caped previous achievements in Qalamoun, where the Syrian forces and Hezbollah have unleashed a wide-scale offensive to dislodge the rebels from that strategic mountain range, which links the capital Damascus with central and northern Syria cities. Enditem