Sweida bloodshed marks a turning point for Syria’s Druze community

Smoke rises after an attack in the southwestern Syrian city of Sweida. (File photo/AFP)
Updated 06 August 2018
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Sweida bloodshed marks a turning point for Syria’s Druze community

  • The execution came “after the failure of talks between Daesh and regime forces over the transfer of Daesh militants from the southwest of Daraa province to the Badiya
  • Regime forces have in recent weeks ousted Daesh from all of the towns and villages in the Yarmouk Basin in the northwest of Daraa province

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 regime-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.
Also on Sunday, sources said the head of a Syrian research facility that Western countries say was part of a chemical weapons program was killed when his car was blown up.
Aziz Asber was the director of the Syrian Scientific Research Center in Masyaf, near the city of Hama, which Western governments say was a covert Syrian regime installation.
“(Asber) died after an explosion targeted his car in the Hama countryside,” Al-Watan said in an online report.
The attack on Asber was claimed by a Syrian militant group affiliated to Tahrir Al-Sham. It includes the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which served as Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.
Militants 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 Daesh and regime forces over the transfer of Daesh militants 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 Russia was in talks with the militants over the release of those abducted in Sweida.
Sweida24 said the oldest woman seized was 60.
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 Yarmouk 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 militants in recent years, the 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 Daesh 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.


Iran denounces latest US sanctions as ‘fruitless’

Updated 20 min 34 sec ago
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Iran denounces latest US sanctions as ‘fruitless’

  • “Sooner or later they will become aware of the futility of their schemes”
  • US slapped fresh sanctions on Iran on Tuesday, accusing it of creating a complex web of Russian cut-out companies and Syrian intermediaries to ship oil to Damascus

TEHRAN: Iran’s foreign ministry denounced the latest US Treasury sanctions as “fruitless and senseless” in a statement issued on Wednesday.
“These fruitless, senseless and ineffective sanctions... will undoubtedly never achieve the desired outcome of their designers and enforcers,” it said.
“Sooner or later they will become aware of the futility of their schemes.”
Washington slapped fresh sanctions on Tehran Tuesday, accusing it of creating a complex web of Russian cut-out companies and Syrian intermediaries to ship oil to Damascus, which in turn bankrolled Hezbollah and Hamas.
The US considers both Hezbollah, a heavily armed Lebanese militia, and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, to be terrorist organizations.
The US Treasury said in a statement that Tehran, “working with Russian companies, provides millions of barrels of oil to the Syrian government” of President Bashar Assad.
“The Assad regime, in turn, facilitates the movement of hundreds of millions of US dollars to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — Qods Force for onward transfer to Hamas and Hezbollah,” it said, referring to Iran’s main foreign military operations unit.