According to reports ISIS (Daesh) terror gangs have retaken control of the ancient city of Palmyra. This comes hours after reports suggested Russian airstrikes forced the militants out. However, it does appear that the Syrian regime forces withdrew.

Meanwhile Russia says that its air force launched more than 60 airstrikes killing more than 300 ISIS militants and halting their offensive on the famed desert city in central Syria. This is doubtful as no footage has emerged of the wreckage of 4×4 Toyota truck columns which suggest a pre-planned operation.

There is a plethora of conflicting reports circulating at the moment about Palmyra. What should we make of this Sputnik News latest update?

 12:47 12.12.2016 (updated 13:05 12.12.2016)

“Daesh terrorists captured several villages and an oil field in the vicinity of Palmyra, but their offensive has been stopped, a source familiar with the situation told RIA Novosti on Monday. ‘The Syrian Army left the settlements of Bayarat and nearby villages. The terrorists also captured the Hiyan oil field. The T4 military airbase can now be regarded as the stronghold of the Syrian Army and militia in the region,’ the source said”.

So, what’s behind this deadly game of  musical chairs?

In 2014 the Assad regime refrained from attacking ISIS bases. A Syrian government adviser told the New York Times “this was indeed a deliberate policy designed to “tar” the broader opposition and “frame [the] choice” as either Assad or the extremists.

In February 2015  the US Embassy in Syria accused the regime of supporting the ISIS advance on Syria’s largest city, Aleppo and tweeted – “Reports indicate that the regime is making air-strikes in support of ISIL’s advance on Aleppo, aiding extremists against Syrian population.”

In March 2015 the FT reported “A Syrian businessman responsible for orchestrating millions of dollars’ worth of secret oil and gas trades between the Assad government and its supposed sworn enemy, ISIS is among 13 individuals and organizations hit with sweeping new economic sanctions by the EU.

Colonel Ahmad Hamadi of the FSA, claimed that “in 2015 the Syrian army withdrew from Palmyra without a fight opening the way for ISIS to occupy the ancient city. Assad wanted to show the world that ISIS poses a great threat and only his regime can defeat it.”

In 2015 according to media reports “Assad regime forces abandoned the city of Palmyra and allowed ISIS to take it over unopposed. Then, in March ISIS was driven out from Palmyra by regime forces backed by Russia. There was no real battle, rather an agreed withdrawal. The recapture was hailed as a major victory. Russian celebrities travelled there staging concerts and making public appearances.

A pro regime website (Syrian Perspective) quoted General Ali Abdullah Ayyoob, Chief of the Syrian General Staff as saying after ISIS withdrew from Palmyra: “the rats (ISIS men) inside were finally given the go-ahead to withdraw to Al-Sukhna, Al-Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. This morning at 5:00 a.m., the SAA had confirmation from sources inside the city that the piece-meal escape was taking place. The Syrian high command ordered troops to stand down until the last rodent had left”.

Now some Arab media are calling the new battle for Palmyra a choreographed theatrical play aimed at Western audiences with the simple message: the regime is standing up to ISIS. The gullible ex-London mayor Boris Johnson was one of those who had fallen victim to Assad’s flagrant deception. In an article in the Daily Telegraph he praised both Assad and Putin.

It does appear that neither Russia nor the Assad regime are interested in fighting ISIS or eliminating the terror group. They are more interested in destroying Aleppo and its inhabitants. Their real target is the moderate opposition.

Many Western observers consider the loss of Palmyra a blow to President Assad, who has been hailing the imminent recapture of Aleppo city as a step towards “total victory” in Syria’s 6 year conflict, but Social Media is awash with different comments about what is happening – I quote just a few examples taken from Twitter:

“The gangs that love Toyota, travel in open deserts and the whole world can’t stop or defeat them.”

“Where are the Russian aircraft for Palmyra? Sorry… our specialty is bombing Hospitals only.”

“Russia and Assad will liberate Palmyra from ISIS once again soon and they will hold a new concert. Pre-orchestrated theatricals.”

“Really? The Latest: Russia blames US for loss of Syria’s Palmyra (from @AP)”

“Is it possible that Daesh have the capability to use 4000 thugs in a single operation undetected? Seems fishy.”

“How come Assad wins in Aleppo but loses in Palmyra. It doesn’t make sense?”

Some commentators believe the whole thing was a pre-arranged deal to divert attention from the atrocities in Aleppo, and to have a ready-made pretext to keep on fighting so-called terrorists.

Nehad Ismail is a UK based writer and a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat. Twitter: @nehadismai

This article was originally published on The What And The Why and can be read here.