Isil advances on Syria's cradle of civilisation
'Irreplaceable treasure' is on brink of destruction, says UN
The UN cultural agency has expressed alarm over clashes between Islamic State militants and Syrian government forces near the ancient city of Palmyra - one of the Middle East's most famous UNESCO world heritage sites.
UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said Palmyra, famous for its 2,000-year-old ruins, should be spared from the fighting. She spoke to reporters in Beirut after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said government warplanes have been attacking Isil positions on the eastern edge of Palmyra. There has also been fighting on the ground, the activist groups said.
On Friday, the Syrian state said troops were "chasing" Isil fighters in several areas north and east of Palmyra.
The Observatory said the fighting near Palmyra on Friday killed three Isil fighters and 10 government troops.
The Syrian government has urged the international community to protect Palmyra from Isil, which recently destroyed several archaeological sites in neighbouring Iraq.
Ms Bokova expressed concern over Palmyra. "The site has already suffered four years of conflict," she said in an earlier statement, adding that it "represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and for the world."
An activist said Isil is bringing reinforcements from the nearby province of Deir el-Zour. He said the government is also deploying additional forces.
Thousands of tourists used to visit Palmyra's towering Roman-era colonnades and temple to the god Baal. Since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, looters have stolen artifacts from museums and damaged Palmyra's ruins.
The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, accused Syrian President Bashar Assad's government of indifference over Palmyra.