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Syrian troops clear explosives after recapturing Palmyra from IS

Syrian army units are clearing landmines and explosives in the historic town of Palmyra that were left behind by Islamic State militants, a security official said.

The Syrian official said he expects the process to be long and difficult due to the large number of mines planted by the extremist group.

Syria's military announced the previous night that its forces had fully recaptured Palmyra from the extremist group as the militants' defences crumbled and IS fighters fled in the face of artillery fire and intense Russia-backed air strikes.

The development marks the third time the town - famed for its priceless Roman ruins and archaeological treasures that IS had sought to destroy - has changed hands in one year.

The Syrian government seized the town from IS militants last March, only to lose it again 10 months later.

Last spring, it took Russian demining experts weeks to clear the town from hundreds of mines planted by IS.

Before the civil war gripped Syria in 2011, Palmyra was a top tourist attraction, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Syrian state television broadcast footage showing troops near the town's archaeological site, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the historic citadel on Friday.

Archaeologists have decried what they say is extensive damage to Palmyra's treasured ruins.

Drone footage released by Russia's Defence Ministry earlier this month showed new damage IS had inflicted to the facade of Palmyra's Roman-era theatre and the adjoining Tetrapylon - a set of four monuments with four columns each at the centre of the colonnaded road leading to the theatre.

IS has destroyed scores of ancient sites across its self-styled Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq, viewing them as monuments to idolatry.

Maamoun Abdu-Karim, the head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Syria, told The Associated Press on Thursday night that this time around, the damage to the ruins seemed smaller in magnitude.

"We had expected the worst. However, the damage, according to the available photos, appears limited," he said.

But IS is not the only side in Syria's civil war, now in its sixth year, that has damaged Palmyra.

A 2014 report by a UN research agency disclosed satellite evidence of looting while the ruins were under Syrian military control.

Opposition fighters have also admitted to looting the antiquities for funds.

AP

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