Jihadists from the Islamic State group (IS or ISIS) seized full control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on Thursday, a monitor said, putting the world heritage site at risk of destruction.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP that regime troops had pulled back from positions in and around Palmyra, including from an army intelligence outpost, a military airport and a prison which the jihadists captured overnight.
The Islamist group has embarked on a campaign of destruction aimed at purging territory under its control of any artifacts deemed "idolatrous" by its puritanical interpretations of Islamic law – include priceless ancient relics.
ISIS extremists sparked international outrage earlier this year in Iraq when they blew up the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and smashed artifacts in the Mosul museum.
ISIS's latest victory comes less than a week after it seized the provincial capital of Iraq's Anbar Province, Ramadi, from government forces.
The jihadist group's gains – its largest since last summer's offensive which saw it capture large swathes of territory in Iraq, including the second city of Mosul – come despite a massive aerial campaign led by the US and a ground effort led by Iranian-backed militias.
The gains have forced a policy rethink by US security experts, particularly after the Iraqi army once again performed poorly in Anbar despite massive American investment.
AFP contributed to this report.