Daesh kills Sweida hostage in Syria, send family execution video

Daesh has executed one of dozens of Druze hostages abducted from Syria’s southern province of Sweida. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 05 August 2018
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Daesh kills Sweida hostage in Syria, send family execution video

  • Daesh killed the 19-year-old male student after kidnapping more than 30 people from Sweida
  • A video was sent to the family showing the student being decapitated

BEIRUT: Daesh has executed one of dozens of Druze hostages abducted from Syria’s southern province of Sweida last week, a journalist in the area and a monitor said Sunday.
Daesh went on a rampage in Sweida on July 25, killing more than 250 people — mostly civilians — in the deadliest attack ever to target the mostly government-held province and its Druze religious minority.
The militants also kidnapped more than 30 people, most of them women and children, from a village in the province, which had previously remained largely isolated from Syria’s seven-year civil war.
On Thursday, Daesh killed a 19-year-old male student who was among the hostages, the head of the Sweida24 news website Nour Radwan told AFP.
Quoting relatives, Radwan, who was speaking from Sweida, said the young man was taken from the village of Al-Shabki on July 25 along with his mother.
His family received two videos, the first showing him being decapitated and the second of him speaking before being killed as well as images of his body after his death, Radwan said.
Sweida24 posted online part of a second video, which was seen by AFP, showing a bearded young man who appeared to be sitting on the ground in a landscape of grey rocks.
He is wearing a black T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, and his hands are tied behind his back.
The video could not be independently verified.
Daesh has not claimed the kidnappings and did not publish the video on its usual channels.
Daesh have lost much of the territory they once controlled in Syria after overrunning large swathes of it in 2014, but they retain a presence in the east of the country and in the vast Badiya desert that sweeps through its south.
The regime has been fighting in recent weeks to expel Daesh fighters from a patch in the neighboring province of Daraa.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the young man’s execution was the first since the kidnappings.
The execution came “after the failure of talks between IS and regime forces over the transfer of IS fighters from the southwest of Daraa province to the Badiya” desert, said the Observatory.
It also follows the execution of 50 Daesh fighters and civilians in Daraa province earlier this week at the hands of rebels, according to the monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
On Friday, a top Druze religious leader said Syrian regime ally Russia was in talks with the jihadists over the release of those abducted in Sweida.
Sweida24 said the oldest woman seized was 60.
Druze, which made up three percent of Syria’s population before 2011, are considered Muslim but IS sees them as heretics.
Syria expert Khattar Abu Diab said that the events of July 25 in Sweida marked a turning point for the country’s Druze community.
“For this ancestral community, the abduction of women oversteps all red lines,” he said.
“Their reaction will depend on the outcome of negotiations but if all the hostages were killed” the Druze could directly intervene to expel Daesh from the desert, he said.
Regime forces have in recent weeks ousted Daesh from all of the towns and villages in the Yarmuk Basin in the northwest of Daraa province.
Syria’s state media have said regime troops are pursuing the last remaining militants who fled to nearby valleys.
In areas it has retaken from rebels and militants in recent years, the Russia-backed regime has sometimes negotiated to take back control of land in exchange for the transfer of fighters to other parts of Syria.
During the July 25 attack in Sweida, the militants abducted 36 Druze women and children from a village in Sweida’s east, the Observatory said at the time.
Four women had since escaped while two had died, leaving 14 women and 16 children in IS captivity, according to the Observatory.
At the time, another 17 men were unaccounted for but it was unclear if they were also kidnapped.
Local sources say the families of the abductees have been sent photos and videos of their loved ones via WhatsApp.
The Sweida killing is the first such execution of a kidnapped civilian by Daesh since the jihadists overran the town of Al-Qaryatain in central Syria for several weeks in October last year, the Observatory said.


US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

Updated 31 min 9 sec ago
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US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

  • The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy
  • The deal could also better position the United States in the region for what has become a global competition with China for influence

WASHINGTON: The United States clinched a strategic port deal with Oman on Sunday which US officials say will allow the US military better access to the Gulf region and reduce the need to send ships through the Strait of Hormuz, a maritime choke point off Iran.
The US embassy in Oman said in a statement that the agreement governed US access to facilities and ports in Duqm as well as in Salalah and "reaffirms the commitment of both countries to promoting mutual security goals."
The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy.
But it comes as the United States grows increasingly concerned about Iran's expanding missile programs, which have improved in recent years despite sanctions and diplomatic pressure by the United States.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal was significant by improving access to ports that connect to a network of roads to the broader region, giving the US military great resiliency in a crisis.
"We used to operate on the assumption that we could just steam into the Gulf," one US official said, adding, however, that "the quality and quantity of Iranian weapons raises concerns."
Tehran has in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route at the mouth of the Gulf, in retaliation for any hostile US action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.
Still, the US official noted that the agreement would expand US military options in the region for any kind of crisis.
Duqm is an ideal port for large ships. It is even big enough to turn around an aircraft carrier, a second official said.
"The port itself is very attractive and the geostrategic location is very attractive, again being outside the Strait of Hormuz," the official said, adding that negotiations began under the Obama administration.
For Oman, the deal will further advance its efforts to transform Duqm, once just a fishing village 550 km (345 miles) south of capital Muscat, into a key Middle East industrial and port center, as its diversifies its economy beyond oil and gas exports.
The deal could also better position the United States in the region for what has become a global competition with China for influence.
Chinese firms once aimed to invest up to $10.7 billion in the Duqm project, a massive injection of capital into Oman, in what was expected to be a commercial, not military, arrangement.
"It looks to me like the Chinese relationship here isn't as big as it appeared it was going to be a couple of years ago," the second official said.
"There's a section of the Duqm industrial zone that's been set aside for the Chinese ... and as far as I can tell so far they've done just about nothing."
Still, China has in the past shown no qualms about rubbing up against US military facilities.
In 2017, the African nation of Djibouti, positioned at another geostrategic choke-point, the strait of Bab Al-Mandeb, became home to China's first overseas military base. The US military already had a base located just miles away, which has been crucial for operations against Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.