Two chil­dren killed by Daesh in Swaida hostage op­er­a­tion

Regime forces clash with rebels in Hama prov­ince, 23 Jaish al-Izza fighters dead

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

DA­M­AS­CUS: Daesh (ISIS) mil­i­tants shot and killed two chil­dren dur­ing an op­er­a­tion to lib­er­ate a group of hostages from south­ern Syria that were be­ing held by the ex­trem­ist group since July, a fa­ther and ac­tivists said Fri­day.

Nashaat Abu Am­mar, a res­i­dent of Swaida whose wife, two sons and daugh­ter were among those be­ing held by Daesh, said his 8-year-old son Raafat was among the two boys shot dead dur­ing the Syr­ian army raid to free the hostages. A 13-yearold boy, Qusay, was also killed.

“They shot him in his mother’s lap,” Abu Am­mar told the As­so­ci­ated Press by tele­phone from Swaida, his voice break­ing up with emo­tion.

State me­dia re­ported Thurs­day evening that troops lib­er­ated the 19 women and chil­dren held by Daesh in a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in cen­tral Syria, trig­ger­ing cel­e­bra­tions in Swaida.

“My hap­pi­ness is huge,” Abu Am­mar, reached by the AP, said then.

His hap­pi­ness was crushed hours later when the group of hostages ar­rived in Swaida.

Among them was the body of Raafat and his 13-year-old cousin.

His wife ap­peared very frail, he said, adding that the group was barely be­ing fed to stay alive.

The 19 women and chil­dren were among 30 peo­ple kid­napped by Daesh in Swaida on July 25 when the mil­i­tants am­bushed res­i­dents and went on a killing spree that left at least 216 peo­ple dead.

The rare at­tacks in the prov­ince, which is pop­u­lated mainly by Syria’s mi­nor­ity Druze, came amid a gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive else­where in the coun­try’s south.

The co­or­di­nated at­tacks across the prov­ince, which in­cluded sev­eral sui­cide bomb­ings, dev­as­tated the com­mu­nity and shat­tered the calm of a re­gion that had been largely spared the worst of the vi­o­lence of Syria’s 7-year-old civil war.

Rus­sian Lt. Gen. Vladimir Savchenko said the hostages were freed by the Syr­ian mil­i­tary Thurs­day “in an op­er­a­tion di­rected by Rus­sian mil­i­tary of­fi­cers.”

He did not give any de­tails of the op­er­a­tion but claimed that no hostages were hurt.

He also said Daesh kept the hostages in bru­tal con­di­tions, keep­ing them in pits where they could barely sit or lie down, giv­ing them no food for days and pro­vid­ing no med­i­cal care.

Since July, one woman from the Swaida hostages died in Daesh cus­tody while an­other was shot dead by the ex­trem­ists.

In Au­gust, a 19-year-old man was also killed in de­ten­tion.

Six other hostages, two women and four chil­dren, were freed in an ex­change with the gov­ern­ment last month. Ne­go­ti­a­tions were ex­pected to free the re­main­ing hostages but the talks failed and Syr­ian troops launched a broad of­fen­sive against Daesh in south­ern Syria.

In north­west­ern Syria, mean­while, Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces clashed with rebels in Hama prov­ince Fri­day in some of the heav­i­est fight­ing in the area for a year, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said.

The army and al­lied forces at­tacked in­sur­gents near the vil­lage of Hal­faya overnight, seiz­ing some po­si­tions, the U.K.-based ac­tivist group added.

State news agency SANA said sol­diers killed in­sur­gents in an am­bush in Hama “in re­sponse to their at­tacks on a mil­i­tary po­si­tion with heavy ma­chine guns.”

The ob­ser­va­tory said it was un­clear if pro-gov­ern­ment forces were killed.

At least 23 mem­bers of the Jaish al-Izza fac­tion died and dozens more were wounded, the high­est ca­su­alty toll of fighters in the north­west in many months, it said.

Jaish al-Izza is a rebel group that was for­merly sup­ported by the United States and is mostly ac­tive in the Latam­neh area of Hama prov­ince, where the at­tack took place.

In­ter­mit­tent ex­changes of fire have bro­ken out in north­west Syria since a deal in Septem­ber be­tween Rus­sia, a key Da­m­as­cus ally, and Turkey, which has backed the op­po­si­tion.

It was not clear what prompted the at­tack Fri­day, which did not ap­pear to sig­nal any large-scale gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive or oth­er­wise threaten the deal.

The agree­ment to set up a 15-20kilo­me­ter-deep demil­i­ta­rized zone staved off an army of­fen­sive against the Idlib re­gion that is un­der in­sur­gent con­trol, in­clud­ing nearby parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The ob­ser­va­tory said that gov­ern­ment forces shelled parts of Jar­janaz, Khan Sheikhoun and other vil­lages Fri­day.

The United Na­tions says nearly 3 mil­lion peo­ple live in the north­west re­gion and has warned that a bat­tle to re­store state rule there could spark great suf­fer­ing.

An ar­ray of in­sur­gents con­trol Idlib, the dom­i­nant force be­ing Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, an Is­lamist al­liance led by mil­i­tants for­merly linked to Al-Qaeda. – Agen­cies

Women and chil­dren who were ab­ducted by Daesh pose for a photo upon ar­riv­ing in their home­town in Swaida prov­ince.

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