Mil­i­tary freed 19 ISIL hostages

The 19 women and chil­dren were among 30 peo­ple kid­napped

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - AL­BERT AJI AND BASSEM MROUE

DA­M­AS­CUS, SYRIA — Syr­ian troops have lib­er­ated 19 women and chil­dren hostages held by Is­lamic State mil­i­tants since July in a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion in the coun­try’s cen­tre, end­ing a months-long cri­sis that has stunned Syria’s Druze re­li­gious mi­nor­ity, state me­dia re­ported Thurs­day.

An op­po­si­tion war mon­i­tor said the re­lease was part of an ex­change.

SANA news agency said in its re­port that the oper­a­tion oc­curred in the Hamima area east of the his­toric town of Palmyra.

It said all ISIL fight­ers in the area where the hostages were held have been killed.

The Suwayda 24 ac­tivist col­lec­tive quoted lo­cal of­fi­cials as say­ing the women and chil­dren held by ISIL have all been freed.

“My hap­pi­ness is huge,” Nashaat Abu Am­mar, whose wife, two sons and daugh­ter are among those freed, told The As­so­ci­ated Press by tele­phone.

The 19 women and chil­dren were among 30 peo­ple kid­napped by ISIL in the south­ern prov­ince of Sweida on July 25 when mil­i­tants of the ex­trem­ist group am­bushed res­i­dents and went on a killing spree that left at least 216 peo­ple dead.

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

The co-or­di­nated at­tacks across the prov­ince, which in­cluded sev­eral sui­cide bomb­ings, shat­tered the calm of a re­gion that had been largely spared from the worst of the vi­o­lence of Syria’s seven-year-long civil war.

A Syr­ian op­po­si­tion war mon­i­tor con­tra­dicted the re­ports on state me­dia, say­ing ISIL set free the hostages in re­turn for the govern­ment’s re­lease of women re­lated to ISIL fight­ers and com­man­ders who were held by Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties as well as a mone­tary pay­ment.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said it was not im­me­di­ately clear how much money the govern­ment paid for the re­lease of the hostages.

State TV aired footage of the women, chil­dren and teenagers in a desert area stand­ing with sol­diers who gave them bread and wa­ter.

The sol­dier then asked the women, who were all veiled, and chil­dren for their names and wrote them on a piece of pa­per.

The TV later aired footage show­ing the for­mer hostages hav­ing meals around a ta­ble.

“We are liv­ing the joy of vic­tory in Syria,” Druze cleric Sheikh Kameel Nasr told Syr­ian state TV.

Since July, one woman died in ISIL 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 af­ter the talks failed, Syr­ian troops launched a broad of­fen­sive against ISIL in south­ern Syria.

The July 25 at­tack on the south­ern city of Sweida and nearby vil­lages was one of the dead­li­est by the ex­trem­ists since they lost most of the land they once held in Syria and Iraq.

“I am so happy they have been freed, and I thank the Syr­ian army for that,” Abu Am­mar said.

The man said he is get­ting ready to leave his vil­lage to the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal of Sweida where the freed were ex­pected to be brought later.

By sun­set, scores of peo­ple gath­ered in the city of Sweida wait­ing for the re­turn of the for­mer hostages.

Else­where in Syria, op­po­si­tion ac­tivists and paramedics re­ported that two blasts in rebel-held parts of north­ern Syria have in­flicted ca­su­al­ties.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said the first ex­plo­sion oc­curred in the north­ern town of Azaz wound­ing six chil­dren while the op­po­si­tion’s Syr­ian Civil De­fence said four were wounded in­clud­ing three chil­dren. The ob­ser­va­tory and other op­po­si­tion ac­tivists re­ported an­other blast in the town of Jin­deris say­ing a bomb went off out­side an of­fice of the Turkey-backed Failaq al-Sham rebel group killing three fight­ers and wound­ing seven.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Syr­ian troops have lib­er­ated 19 women and chil­dren hostages held by ISIL since July in a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion in the coun­try's cen­tre, end­ing a cri­sis that has stunned Syria's Druze mi­nor­ity, state me­dia re­ported to­day. Since July, one woman died in ISIL cus­tody while an­other was shot dead by the ex­trem­ists.

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