Last of Druze hostages taken by ISIS released
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.