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Russia planes strike IS in Syrian city of Palmyra: Syria TV

The Russian airstrikes have reportedly killed 15 IS fighters and destroyed armoured vehicles, warehouses and rocket launchers
A photo of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra from earlier this year (AFP)

Russian warplanes have bombed targets in and around the Syrian city of Palmyra, Syrian state television said on Tuesday, in Moscow's first strikes against the Islamic State group-controlled area.

"The Russian air force, in coordination with the Syrian air force, targeted positions held by the Islamic State group in and around the city of Palmyra," state television said, citing a military source.

It said the strikes had destroyed "20 armoured vehicles, three ammunition warehouses and three rocket launchers".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the Palmyra strikes were launched overnight and killed at least 15 IS fighters and injured dozens more.

Last week, Western powers and activists on the ground in Syria accused Russia of targetting non-IS opposition groups fighting against the Syrian government. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, defended the country's airstrikes, saying that they are targeting the same groups that the US-led coalition are hitting.

IS seized control of Palmyra in May and has realised international fears by destroying some of the most prized sites in the UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient city.

On Sunday, the group blew up the Arch of Triumph at the site, after previously razing two famed temples, including the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel.

IS regards statues and grave markers as idolatrous, though it has smuggled and sold antiquities without qualms to raise money.

Experts say the group destroys ancient sites in part for propaganda value, grabbing headlines and attracting potential recruits.

Syria's antiquities chief Maamun Abdulkarim warned Monday of a "systematic destruction" of Palmyra.

"They want to raze it completely," he told AFP.

Syria's army has advanced towards Palmyra from the west in recent months, but experts have warned any attack by government forces could only speed up IS's destruction of its remaining treasures.

Syrian state television also reported on Tuesday what appeared to be Russian raids on several sites in the northern province of Aleppo, including the IS-controlled town of Al-Bab.