Hundreds of displaced Syrian residents of Palmyra returned home Saturday to inspect their houses for the first time since the Russian-backed army captured it from the Islamic State group two weeks ago.
Ten months after fleeing their famed city the residents arrived on government-run buses from the provincial capital of Homs where they had sought shelter from jihadist rule.
"The first thing I checked in the house was the roof," Khudr Hammoud, a 68-year-old retired civil servant, told AFP, adding that he was relieved that it was still there.
"The walls, the windows and the door are also still there, and that's enough for me to get my family ready to return to Palmyra," he said.
On March 27, the Syrian army recaptured the city and its world famous antiquities, in a major symbolic and strategic coup for President Bashar al-Assad's regime and its key backer Russia.
Once home to 70,000 people, Palmyra has been scarred by Syria's five-year war and retreating jihadists sowed traps around the city.
As Hammoud and the others inspected their homes and gathered personal belongings, Russian sappers could be seen clearing mines and powerful blasts could be heard in the distance.
Many apartment blocks are partially collapsed while others have been totally demolished, AFP journalists said.
In Hammoud's home all the windows have been shattered, and some of the walls, although they are still standing, are riddled with bullets.
A local official told AFP that residents would not be allowed to spend the night in Palmyra until infrastructure is repaired and demining operations are completed.
"There is no water or electricity, and we are continuing to work on demining the surroundings of the city," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"We will need at least three weeks to rehabilitate the city's infrastructure to the extent that residents will be able to spend the night in their homes," he added.
Hammoud said he left his family back in Homs because he did not want them to see the damage and destruction.
But before boarding one of the 25 buses chartered by the authorities he made a dash for his son's room to pick up a toy.
"I promised Abdu that I would bring him the toys he wanted, which he had left in his room," he said.
Palmyra was a key tourist destination before the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011 known for its celebrated ancient ruins, including colonnaded streets and 2,000-year-old temples.
But IS destroyed some of Palmyra's most striking monuments and used the ancient amphitheatre as a venue for public executions.
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