BAGHDAD, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi paramilitary units, known as Hashd Shaabi, on Wednesday retook control of ancient remains of the Hatra city in south of Iraq's northern province of Nineveh after clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants, the paramilitary units said.
The paramilitary fighters backed by the army's helicopter gunships freed the IS-held archaeological site after clashes with IS militants, the media office of the predominantly Shiite Hashd Shaabi said in a statement.
Afterwards, the paramilitary units continued their advance toward the nearby town and started heavy clashes with IS militants, the statement said without giving further details.
The recapture of the ancient site came at the second day of an operation launched by the Hashd Shaabi units to dislodge IS militants from their desert stronghold in the town of Hatra and nearby villages, some 100 km southwest of Mosul.
In the first day of the operation, the Hashd Shaabi drove out IS militants from 12 villages near Hatra area.
Hatra dated back to 2,000 years. It is well-known for its high walls full of inscriptions and watchtowers dotted around the fortified city, which includes temples and ruined walls, where Hellenistic and Roman architecture blend, merged with Eastern decorative features.
The ancient city was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987, the first such site in Iraq.
In March 2015, the Iraqi Tourism and Antiquities Ministry said that IS militants stole and destroyed the ancient Hatra city.
Mosul, 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.
The IS extremists also destroyed many old temples, shrines, churches and precious manuscripts in the city of Mosul and many other areas.
Chaos and fragile security following the U.S.-led invasion to Iraq left many historic sites across the country in the hands of looters who carried out random excavations and stole tens of thousands of antiquities.