ISIS militants re-entered the historic city of Palmyra in central Syria on Saturday for the first time since they were expelled by Syrian and Russian forces nine months ago. The activist-run Palmyra Coordination network said the militants had nearly encircled the city and entered its northern and northwestern neighborhoods. The group, which maintains contacts inside the city, said ISIS fighters were approaching the city’s UNESCO heritage site as well.

Osama al-Khatib said government soldiers were fleeing Palmyra. “The army as an institution has dissolved,” he said. Some soldiers and militiamen remain in the city, along with 120 families who have not been able to leave, Khatib said. He spoke to The Associated Press from Gaziantep, Turkey. “There is strong fighting on all sides,” he reported. “There is no exit except through a corridor to the west.” READ MORE