Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today, congratulating him on his forces retaking Palmyra, the Kremlin said.
The recapture of the ancient city represents a major victory over the Islamic State group, whose fighters had destroyed many monuments at the UNESCO world heritage site since they overran it in May last year.
“In a conversation with the Syrian president, Vladimir Putin congratulated his colleague on Syrian forces liberating the city of Palmyra from terrorists,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, quoted by RIA Novosti state news agency.
“Despite the withdrawal of the main part of Russia’s military contingent from Syria, the Russian armed forces will continue to help the Syrian authorities to fight terrorism and rid their land of extremist groups,” Putin was quoted as saying.
Assad in turn “praised the help given by the Russian space and air forces” and said “successes such as the liberation of Palmyra would be impossible without Russia’s support,” Peskov said.
Backed by a barrage of Russian air strikes, Syrian troops and allied militia launched a major offensive to retake the desert city earlier this month.
Putin told Assad of “the importance of preserving this unique historic city for world culture,” Peskov added.
Putin also spoke by telephone with UNESCO chief Irina Bokova about the fate of Palmyra, telling her that members of the Russian military will work with Syrian forces to clear mines in the city, Peskov said.
Putin and Bokova agreed that UNESCO, along with Russia and Syria, would soon be able to assess “the damage caused by terrorists to Palmyra and also develop a plan to restore what can still be restored”.
Assad told Putin that the conflict in Syria, now in its sixth year, was a “struggle for oil”, adding: “There is a lot of oil everywhere but there is only one Palmyra”, the Kremlin spokesman said. (AFP)