'Russian jets' bomb historic Syrian town of Palmyra
Suspected Russian war planes have bombed the outskirts of Palmyra, sending smoke rising out of an area that includes a historic castle overlooking the Syrian city's Roman ruins, activists said.
An activist in the Islamic State-held city, who goes by the name Nasser al-Thaer, said at least eight air strikes struck the area of the Islamic-era castle.
An earlier round of air strikes on Sunday hit behind the castle, Mr al-Thaer said. He added that it was difficult to assess damage because of the ongoing air strikes.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 suspected Russian air strikes targeted the castle area in Palmyra, causing damage.
Palmyra, seized by IS in May, is home to world-famous Roman ruins and was one of Syria's most attractive tourist destinations. IS has destroyed a number of its renowned sites, including the Temple of Bel and the iconic Arc of Triumph, because it believes ancient artefacts promote idolatry.
Activists also reported suspected Russian air strikes on a nearby town, Qaryatain, which was seized by IS fighters in August. The Observatory said at least 10 people were killed in the central town. The Local Co-ordination Committees, another monitoring group, said at least 15 civilians were killed after the air strikes hit a bread distribution centre.
There was no immediate comment from Russian officials. In comments to the Syrian state news agency SANA, a military official said the Russian Air Force, in co-operation with the Syrian Air Force, carried out 131 sorties which destroyed 237 terrorist targets over 48 hours, including "fortified bases, shelters, and a heavy machine gun site used by (IS) in the surroundings of Palmyra".
The air strikes came a day after IS fighters expanded their presence in the central Homs province. They seized the town of Mahin, east of Qaryatain, on Sunday, and attacked the majority-Christian town of Sadad. The new expansion takes IS closer to a major road linking Damascus to the central Homs province, threatening to endanger government supply routes.