Syria's ancient town of Palmyra threatened by Isis advance

Isis militants have advanced to within two kilometers of the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra, battling Syrian troops and threatening the destruction of the Unesco world heritage site, a prominent Syrian monitoring group said.

The group have beaten back Syrian forces after clashes which killed a total of 110 fighters on both sides and have now reached within touching distance of the city, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has revealed.

"Palmyra is under threat," said the Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

"Isil has taken all the army posts between Al-Sukhnah and Palmyra," he added, as the group advanced from the east and into central Syria.

On its website, Unesco refers to Palmyra as a site of "outstanding universal value" with temples from the 1st and 2nd Century.

Syria's director of antiquities Maamoun Abdulkarim, said that if Isis captured the city, it would face the same fate as the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra which were destroyed by the terror group earlier this year.

"If Isis enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction," Abdulkarim told AFP news agency. "If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe."

"It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul."

The ancient town hosts approximately 50,000 residents and has remained under government control since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. The town was designated a Unesco heritage site in 1980.

The terror group have caused controversy by bulldozing the ancient Iraqi cities of Hatra and Nimrud in their campaign to destroy cultural sites in the Nineveh province. They have also threatened key heritage sites along the Libyan coast, such as Sabratha, Leptis Magna and Cyrene, where their influence is growing.

The terror group drew international condemnation in March this year after it destroyed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, which lies approximately 30km (18 miles) southeast of Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul, with the UN's cultural agency describing the action as a "war crime".

While many believe that the group attacks or loot antiquities for mere shock value or financial gain, Isis holds an intolerance towards items that are deemed jahili (pre-Islamic) and antiquities that depict humans, such as Roman statues or mosaics, Dr Hafed Walda, the pending deputy ambassador to the permanent Libyan delegation at Unesco, told Newsweek earlier this year.