A day after Islamic State seized the ancient city of Palmyra (Talmor), more alarming news is coming out of Syria.
Reuters reported a while ago that followers of Islamic State had posted an official IS statement on Twitter that the organization was in full charge of Palmyra, including its military bases.
Around a third of the 200,000 people living in Palmyra may have fled in the past few days during fighting between government forces and Islamic State militants, the U.N. human rights office said on Thursday.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – which has a vast network of civil informants in Syria – reported this morning that Islamic State is now in full control of 50 percent of the Syrian territory.
The Observatory wrote on its website that Islamic State controls more than 60,000 square miles in the provinces of Homs, al-Raqqa, el-Hasakah, Hama, Aleppo, Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Daraa, and al-Suwaydaa.
The organization also controls the vast majority of the gas and oilfields in Syria. The only gas fields that are not controlled by Islamic State are Rmeilan and Sha’er. The group is also in control of most of the Syria-Iraqi border as well as the Syrian Jordanian frontier, according to Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Observatory.
Since the beginning of the attack on Palmyra and the town of al-Sikhni, 462 people have died; 71 of them were executed on the charge of “dealing and cooperating with the infidel regime.”
The capture of Palmyra—the first major city that Islamic State has wrested from Assad’s army and its allies Hezbollah and the Iranian Al Quds Brigade, as opposed to Islamist and other opposition groups—provides the militants with a base from which to advance on other cities held by Assad, including Homs and Damascus. Palmyra is sixty miles from Damascus and is located on the highway to Damascus.
Israeli Channel 10’s Middle East expert, Tzvi Yechezkieli, reported this evening that the fall of Palmyra could spell the end of Assad’s central government. He pointed to the fact that Assad is losing territory to Islamic State every day and is now in control of only a quarter of Syria’s territory.
Yechezkieli reported that Assad has taken into consideration the possibility that he could be ousted by Islamic State and has an escape plan in case Islamic State will seize Damascus. The Channel 10 expert said that when that happens, Assad will withdraw his forces to the Western part of Syria and will try to hold the areas where the Alawite minority lives. Assad is a member of this non-Muslim minority that makes up only ten percent of the population in Syria.
Yechezkieli also pointed to another dramatic development following the takeover of Palmyra. He said that Islamic State launched a massive jailbreak and released thousands of Syrians who had been incarcerated in Palmyra’s state-run prison, most of them for opposing Assad’s regime. Many of the freed prisoners were welcomed into Islamic State’s forces, he said. “This will only add to the power and motivation of Islamic State’s forces,” he added.
Meanwhile, President Obama told Atlantic reporter Jeffrey Goldberg that the U.S. isn’t losing the fight against Islamic State. He said that the fall of Ramadi in Iraq was “a tactical setback” and added that “the city has been vulnerable for a very long time.”
In related news, Reuters reported today that Turkey’s state intelligence agency helped deliver arms to parts of Syria under Islamist rebel control during late 2013 and early 2014, according to a prosecutor and court testimony from gendarmerie officers seen by the news agency.
The witness testimony contradicts Turkey’s denials that it sent arms to Syrian rebels and, by extension, contributed to the rise of Islamic State, now a major concern for the NATO member.
Testimony from gendarmerie officers in court documents reviewed by Reuters allege that rocket parts, ammunition, and semi-finished mortar shells were carried in trucks accompanied by state intelligence agency (MIT) officials more than a year ago to parts of Syria under Islamist control.
Four trucks were searched in the southern province of Adana in raids by police and gendarmerie, one in November 2013 and the three others in January 2014, on the orders of prosecutors acting on tip-offs that they were carrying weapons, according to testimony from the prosecutors, who now themselves face trial.
While the first truck was seized, the three others were allowed to continue their journey after MIT officials accompanying the cargo threatened police and physically resisted the search, according to the testimony and prosecutor’s report.
This makes clear that President Tayyip Erdogan lied when he said the three trucks stopped on Jan. 19 belonged to MIT and were carrying humanitarian aid. Erdogan also lied when he denied that Turkey was aiding Islamic State in its battle against Assad’s regime.
President Obama, who has developed a close relationship with Erdogan, has always regarded the Islamist Turkish President as a leader who could help stabilize the situation in the Middle East.
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth