Last of Druze hostages taken by ISIS re­leased

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD -

The last 19 Druze women and chil­dren ab­ducted by Is­lamic State in July from the south­ern Syr­ian prov­ince of Sweida have been freed.

Syr­ian state me­dia SANA said yes­ter­day the mass lib­er­a­tion was the re­sult of a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion but oth­ers in­sisted the 15-week hostage or­deal was ended be­cause of a pris­oner swap.

The freed hostages “met their rel­a­tives” af­ter more than three months of cap­tiv­ity dur­ing which at least two of their fel­low cap­tives were killed.

Jour­nal­ist Nour Rad­wan said the hostages were on Thurs­day brought to a mil­i­tary base in the north of Sweida prov­ince, where they were met by fam­ily. The group then headed to Sweida city, where dozens of peo­ple had gath­ered to wel­come them home.

SANA said regime troops “were able to lib­er­ate all the 19 hostages … and kill the ter­ror­ist kid­nap­pers”. Syr­ian tele­vi­sion broad­cast images of veiled women, boys and at least one girl sur­rounded by men in uni­forms near a white pick-up truck in a desert land­scape.

It said the images were broad­cast from the desert near the an­cient city of Palmyra in the cen­tre of the coun­try.

In Sweida, Jaw­dat Abu Omar was in his car rush­ing to the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal to see his wife, eightyear-old daugh­ter Sha­had, and 13-year-old son Qusay. “I can’t even de­scribe how I’m feel­ing. I’ve never felt this happy in my life,” he said over the phone. “We’ll be wait­ing for them.”

ISIS ji­hadists ab­ducted about 30 peo­ple — mostly women and chil­dren — from Sweida late in July dur­ing the dead­li­est at­tack of the seven-year civil war on Syria’s Druze com­mu­nity.

Rad­wan said the women and chil­dren were freed in a pris­oner ex­change deal. “The free­ing of the re­main­ing hostages came as part of a pris­oner swap deal, and to­day was the sec­ond stage of that deal,” he said. Two women and four chil­dren were re­leased last month in a first step of the same agree­ment that also saw women and chil­dren re­lated to ISIS fighters freed from regime jails, he said.

“The agree­ment pro­vides for swap­ping (the) ab­ducted for de­tained ISIS rel­a­tives in Syr­ian gov­ern­ment jails. A first step saw the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment free 25 de­tainees in­clud­ing 17 women and eight chil­dren re­lated to ISIS.”

ISIS ex­e­cuted a 19-year-old male stu­dent among the hostages in Au­gust and then a 25-year-old woman last month.

In the July 25 at­tack, ISIS killed more than 250 peo­ple in a wave of sui­cide bomb­ings, shoot­ings and stab­bings across Sweida prov­ince. Regime forces have since pressed a deadly bat­tle against ISIS on the vol­canic plateau of Tu­lul al-Safa in the east.

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