Jihadists from the Islamic State group (ISIS or IS) seized control Saturday of the northern part of Syria's ancient desert city of Palmyra after fierce clashes with government forces, a monitoring group said.
"IS advanced and took control of most of northern Palmyra, and there are fierce clashes happening now," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
He said 13 jihadist fighters were killed in ongoing clashes near the Islamic citadel in the city's west.
Abdel Rahman had no details on regime casualties.
Most of Palmyra's renowned ruins, including colonnaded streets and elaborately decorated tombs, lie to the southwest of the city.
ISIS began its offensive on Palmyra on Wednesday and inched closer to the ancient metropolis on Thursday and Friday, executing at least 49 civilians over those two days according to the Observatory.
The latest gains by ISIS in Syria come just a day after it seized the government compound in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Friday and edged closer to what would be their biggest victory in Iraq this year.
The loss of the capital of Anbar province, which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had said would be the next target of government forces after wresting back Tikrit last month, would be a major setback.
The government stressed that Ramadi had not fallen yet and announced that a major counter-offensive was under way as Abadi held an emergency meeting with top security officials.
ISIS has threatened to take control of Ramadi for months, and the breakthrough came after a wide offensive on multiple fronts in the province, including an assault using several suicide car bombs in Ramadi on Thursday.
The jihadists seized the government complex at around 2:00 p.m. local time and raised the black flag, a police officer said, giving them nearly full control over Anbar's capital.