Middle East

Fighting against IS rages in central Syrian town of Palmyra

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian government soldiers gather at the entrance of Palmyra, central Syria, Thursday, March 24, 2016. Syrian government forces pushed into the ancient town of Palmyra, where Islamic State militants appeared on the verge of collapse Thursday, while in Iraq, a military spokesman announced the start of a long-awaited operation to recapture the IS-held northern city of Mosul. (SANA via AP)

    In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian government soldiers gather at the entrance of Palmyra, central Syria, Thursday, March 24, 2016. Syrian government forces pushed into the ancient town of Palmyra, where Islamic State militants appeared on the verge of collapse Thursday, while in Iraq, a military spokesman announced the start of a long-awaited operation to recapture the IS-held northern city of Mosul. (SANA via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian government soldiers gather on a hill at the entrance of Palmyra, central Syria, Thursday, March 24, 2016. Syrian government forces pushed into the ancient town of Palmyra, where Islamic State militants appeared on the verge of collapse Thursday, while in Iraq, a military spokesman announced the start of a long-awaited operation to recapture the IS-held northern city of Mosul. (SANA via AP)

    In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian government soldiers gather on a hill at the entrance of Palmyra, central Syria, Thursday, March 24, 2016. Syrian government forces pushed into the ancient town of Palmyra, where Islamic State militants appeared on the verge of collapse Thursday, while in Iraq, a military spokesman announced the start of a long-awaited operation to recapture the IS-held northern city of Mosul. (SANA via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian government soldiers stand next to their tank, near the entrance of the town of Palmyra, in central Syria, Thursday, March 24, 2016. Syrian government forces pushed into the ancient town of Palmyra, where Islamic State militants appeared on the verge of collapse Thursday, while in Iraq, a military spokesman announced the start of a long-awaited operation to recapture the IS-held northern city of Mosul. (SANA via AP)

    In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian government soldiers stand next to their tank, near the entrance of the town of Palmyra, in central Syria, Thursday, March 24, 2016. Syrian government forces pushed into the ancient town of Palmyra, where Islamic State militants appeared on the verge of collapse Thursday, while in Iraq, a military spokesman announced the start of a long-awaited operation to recapture the IS-held northern city of Mosul. (SANA via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Syrian state media and opposition activists say heavy fighting is underway between government troops and Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Palmyra, with the two sides exchanging artillery and gunfire.

The historic town in central Syria has been controlled by the extremist Islamic State group since May. The militants have destroyed and blown up some of its most famous archaeological relics. The Syrian army, backed by Russian airstrikes, is pushing to recapture the town.

An unnamed military official cited by state-run news agency SANA said Friday that troops seized the so-called SyriaTel Hill near the Palmyra Citadel. Troops have also captured several hills around the town.

They briefly entered the town the previous day but where pushed back. Fighting is now taking place around the entrances of the town.