DAMASCUS - A group of Syrian and foreign tourists visited Palmyra on Tuesday, the first such trip since the ancient Syrian city was retaken from Islamists last year, media reported.

 The tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site was clouded by the scale of damage that Islamic State (IS banned in Russia) terrorists did to the 2,000-year-old relics, according to Syria’s Ikhbariya channel.

The first tourists to come here in years took photos of the surviving treasures and were given souvenirs, one of them told the Riyadh-based television channel.

The historic city was captured twice by IS, which considers its Roman-era temples and antiquities blasphemous. Palmyra was eventually liberated by Syrian government troops with support from Russian forces in March 2017. Over 1.5 million Syrians, including those from abroad and internally displaced persons, have returned home since the start of the Russian operation in the conflict-torn country in September 2015, Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the Russian National Defense Control Center, said on Tuesday.

“As for today, a total of 1,550,009 Syrian nationals have returned home, including 1,259,731 internally displaced persons and 290,278 of those from abroad,” Mizintsev said at a meeting of interdepartmental coordination headquarters of Russia and Syria on the return refugees to Syria.

According to Mizintsev, since the start of 2018, over 291,311 Syrian nationals have returned to homeland, including 177,369 people from different parts of the country and 113,942 from abroad.

 Mizntsev added that the main flow of refugees to the country goes through the Syrian-Lebanese and Syrian-Jordanian borders. Over 31,000 people have crossed into Syria via Nasib checkpoint from Jordan since the start on the initiative on refugees return in July 2018.

Mizintsev recalled that during the Russian military operation in Syria that successfully finished a year ago, a total of 1,141 settlements in Syria have been liberated from terrorists, while over 96.5 percent of country’s territory have come under the government’s control.

Syria has been in a state of civil war since 2011, with the government forces fighting against numerous opposition groups and terrorist organizations. As the Syrian government has regained control over most of the country’s territories that were seized by terrorists, it is now focused on creating favorable conditions for repatriating refugees. Moscow is assisting Damascus in this process, along with providing humanitarian aid to civilians and being a guarantor of the ceasefire.