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Syrian Troops Drive Islamic State Out Of Palmyra

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DAMASCUS, Syria — UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the Syrian government's recapture of the town of Palmyra and its world-famous archaeological site from Islamic State extremists.

Ban told a news conference in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Sunday that "the extremist terrorists, they have been not only killing brutally people, they have been destroying human civilizations."

The UN chief says that "we are encouraged and fortunate'' that Syrian troops retook Palmyra. He says he is also encouraged that Syria's government "will try to not only preserve and protect, but try to restore'' the site.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin's spokesman says Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Syrian President Bashar Assad on his army's recapture of the ancient city of Palmyra.

palmyraSyrian government army soldiers put a flag on top of Fakhr al-Din al-Maani Citadel, a UNESCO world heritage site. (Photo: Getty Images)

In a telephone call, Putin "noted the importance of preserving this unique historical site for world culture,'' presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying Sunday by Russian news agencies. "Putin once again stressed that despite the withdrawal of the bulk of Russia's contingent from Syria, Russia's armed forces will continue to help the Syrian authorities in their anti-terrorist efforts and liberation of their homeland from extremist groups.''

Russia has consistently denied claims that its airstrikes in Syria, which began in late September, are aimed at propping up Assad's rule.

The government forces' offensive on Palmyra came as Russia claimed to have run more than 100 warplane sorties in the area in the past week.

Peskov says that Assad "noted that successes such as the liberation of Palmyra would be impossible without Russia's support.''

palmyraThis file photo released on Sunday, May 17, 2015, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows the general view of the ancient Roman city of Palmyra. (Photo: SANA via AP)

Assad has described his army's recapture of Palmyra as a "significant achievement.''

In comments reported by Syrian state TV on Sunday, he said that the overthrow of the Islamic State group in the historic town offered "new evidence of the effectiveness of the strategy espoused by the Syrian army and its allies in the war against terrorism.''

Government forces had been on the offensive for nearly three weeks to try to retake the town, which is home to famed Roman-era ruins and was once one of Syria's top tourist destinations. It had been in the hands of militants from IS group since May.

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