DAMASCUS, July 9 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian forces have launched an offensive to expel the Islamic State (IS) group from the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV reported Thursday.
The army forces have been only few kilometers from the western entrance of Palmyra, after the troops managed to retake around 15 kilometers west of the city amid the withdrawal of many IS militants toward the eastern and central parts of the city.
The government troops have over the past 24 hours captured several hilltops overlooking Palmyra, becoming only seven kilometers from the gates of that millennia-old oasis city, in the eastern countryside of the central province of Homs.
The military operation will continue until the recapture of Palmyra, the TV said, adding that the government forces are attacking from three directions.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the battles are incessant between the Syrian forces and the IS militants amid the advancement of the Syrian forces toward the city.
The UK-based watchdog group said clashes were coupled with an intense aerial bombardment and a displacement wave of civilians out of the city, which was overran by the IS militants late last May.
Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world.
After storming Palmyra, the IS militants blew up the city's military prison and several Islamic tombs.
Last Friday, fresh reports emerged from the city that the IS blew up a big statue of a lion.
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.