Two children killed by Daesh in Swaida hostage operation
Regime forces clash with rebels in Hama province, 23 Jaish al-Izza fighters dead
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.