DAMASCUS, Mar 27 : Syrian government forces backed by heavy Russian air support drove Islamic State out of Palmyra on Sunday, inflicting what the army called a "mortal blow" to militants who seized the city last year and dynamited its ancient temples.
The loss of Palmyra represents one of the biggest setbacks for the ultra-hardline Islamist group since it declared a caliphate in 2014 across large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The army general command said that its forces took over the city with support from Russian and Syrian air strikes, opening up the huge expanse of desert leading east to the Islamic State strongholds of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor.
Palmyra would become "a launchpad to expand military operations" against the group in those two provinces, it said, promising to "tighten the noose on the terrorist group and cut supply routes ... ahead of their complete recapture".
Meanwhile, a Russian special forces officer has been hailed a "hero" after reportedly ordering an air strike on himself while fighting Isis militants in Syria.
The unnamed man died during operations to retake the ancient city of Palmyra, state media reported.
A spokesperson for the Russian armed forces told RIA Novosti that the officer was stationed to hunt down crucial Isis facilities and provide co-ordinates for bombing.