The advance on Palmyra comes against the backdrop of Syrian peace talks underway in Geneva between representative of the Damascus government and the Western-backed opposition.

The ministry said Russian warplanes hit 146 targets Sunday through Wednesday, killing 320 militants.

The department did not respond to teleSUR's request for comment, but on Monday a spokesperson confirmed to VICE News that "its reference to an Islamic State headquarters was actually (a reference) to the University of Mosul".

And in Syria, mired in civil war, Russian Federation has announced it will step up its enforcement of a cease-fire, warning it will strike groups deemed to be violating the truce. The talks, which have been boosted by a Russia-U.S.-brokered cease-fire that has mostly held since late February, were to adjourn on Thursday - without having achieved any apparent breakthroughs.

Many of the Palmyra's Roman-era relics, including the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel and the iconic Arch of Triumph, have been blown up by IS.

"Daesh is in retreat", he said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS and ISIL.

Footage released by the Islamic State shows smoke rising from what appears to be the University of Mosul.

Look Closely at the Dwarf Planet Ceres with the Help of NASA
This crater hosts other bright spots sprinkled throughout the whole area but the shiniest feature is the patch covering the mound. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the Islamic State is experiencing a phenomenon he's witnessed in other extremist groups that begin to lose territory.

The Syrian Observatory for Human rights says Syrian troops are facing stiff resistance pushing into the city's eastern and southern edges, according to the AP.

The Islamic State group has controlled Palmyra since May and has destroyed many of its famed archaeological sites.

Iraqi forces on Thursday launched an offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group, the Iraqi army said in a statement broadcast on state television.

"The first phase of the Fatah (Conquest) Operation has been launched at dawn to liberate Nineveh, raising the Iraqi flag in several villages", state TV reported in a military statement on Thursday. He wouldn't divulge more details.

Based on media reports within the country, it is unclear what will be entailed in the operation to liberate Mosul or how long it will take.

Two senior defense officials tell Fox News that Iraqi forces are 70 miles away from Mosul ahead of a potential invasion, but they have not stormed the city. Capturing the city will be the ISF's largest undertaking since it was formed after the US occupation of Iraq.