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IS video claims to show group still in control of Palmyra

Islamic State and Syrian army forces are locked in fierce battle for control of the iconic city
Islamic State fighters pose in front of iconic ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra with captured Syrian soldiers, after last May's seizure of the city (AFP)

Islamic State has released a new video claiming to show the interior of the iconic city of Palmyra, denying reports that the Syrian army is on the verge of retaking the strategic site. 

The video, which was posted in the early hours of Friday morning, purports to show militants driving around the centre of the city, where IS banners flutter at the top of flagpoles.

It also features an IS fighter - with his face uncovered - pledging to achieve victory over forces currently advancing on the city.

The Syrian state news agency, for its part, posted a video on Thursday claiming to show its own military operations in the area, part of a campaign to retake the city, a UN World Heritage site seized last May by IS.

Pro-government forces on the ground launched a bid to take back control of the city at the start of March, backed up by intense Russian air strikes. 

The SANA state agency said on Friday that the army had retaken Syriatel Hill, a strategic site close to Palmyra’s ancient castle. 

The agency claimed that IS fighters had fled into the city centre in the face of the government advance, with many giving up their weapons. 

Palmyra's fall to IS last May sent shockwaves around the world as the militants launched a systematic campaign of destruction at its UNESCO World Heritage site, blowing up temples and looting relics dating back 2,000 years, while also carrying out massacres of captured soldiers and officials in front of the historic ruins.

Its recapture would be a strategic as well as a symbolic victory for President Bashar al-Assad, since whoever controls it has access to the vast desert extending from central Syria to the Iraqi border, analysts have said. 

UNESCO on Thursday welcomed the “liberation” of Palmyra from IS, who it said had been carrying out a campaign of “cultural cleansing” around the ancient city.

"As soon as security conditions allow, UNESCO is ready to go to Palmyra with those responsible for Syrian antiquities on a mission to evaluate damage and protect the priceless heritage of the city of Palmyra, crossroad of cultures since the dawn of humanity,” UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said in a statement.