Daesh frees 6 Druze in exchange for $27m, 60 fighters

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Abeer Shalgheen and her four children were freed by Daesh, who kidnapped them on July 25 during a raid by the extremists on the southern province of Sweida, Syria. (SANA via AP)
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A man kisses the head of Rasmiya Abu Ammar after being freed by Daesh, who kidnapped them on July 25 during a raid by the extremists on the southern province of Sweida, Syria. (SANA via AP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Daesh frees 6 Druze in exchange for $27m, 60 fighters

  • Daesh abducted around 30 people — mostly women and children — from Sweida province in late July during the deadliest attack on Syria’s Druze community of the seven-year civil war
  • Sweida province is the heartland of the country’s Druze minority, which made up around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population — or around 700,000 people

BEIRUT: Daesh has released two women and four children among 27 surviving Druze hostages it seized during a deadly July attack on the minority community’s heartland in southern Syria.
State television broadcast footage of the six arriving in the city of Sweida on Saturday, joyful at being reunited with their families but haggard after their three-month ordeal.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said their release was the first part of a deal that would see at least 60 Daesh prisoners released in exchange and a $27 million ransom paid.
The militants abducted around 30 people — mostly women and children — from Sweida province in late July during the deadliest attack on Syria’s Druze community of the seven-year civil war.
As negotiations for their release dragged on, families led a series of protests outside government offices in Sweida to demand more be done.
“I cannot describe my joy,” Rasmia Abu Amar told state television after being reunited with her husband.
“But it is incomplete — my son has not yet been released,” she said, her hair covered by a white headscarf.
A second woman appeared with her four children, their clothes still dirty from their long captivity and her sons with their heads shaved.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the six were freed on Friday night and that further hostage releases were expected “in the next few days or hours.”
He said that in return for the release of all of the hostages, the Syrian government had agreed to free 60 Daesh prisoners and pay a ransom of $27 million.
“Nine IS women prisoners held by the regime have already been handed over to the group along with seven children,” Abdel Rahman said, referring to another acronym for Daesh.
During the coordinated assaults on July 25 Daesh carried out suicide bombings, shootings and stabbings that left more than 250 people dead, most of them civilians.
Sweida province is the heartland of the country’s Druze minority, which made up around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population — or around 700,000 people.
The militants executed a 19-year-old male student among the hostages in August and then a 25-year-old woman in early October. Daesh said a 65-year-old woman being held by the group also died from illness.
Negotiations between regime ally Russia and the militants for the release of the hostages had stalled. But the latest round of talks appeared to have paid off — albeit it with a stiff price.
The Observatory said Daesh had also demanded the halting of an offensive against them in Sweida.
Government forces have battled its fighters in the volcanic plateau of Tulul Al-Safa in the east of the province since the July attack.
Abdel Rahman said the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led alliance that controls swathes of the north and northeast with the support of a US-led coalition, “should also release some IS detainees” but he did not specify the number.
There was no immediate comment from the SDF, which has been taking heavy casualties fighting Daesh in its last pocket of control in eastern Syria, around the Euphrates valley town of Hajjin.
On September 10, the group launched a major assault on the pocket where they estimate some 3,000 militants are holed up.
The battle has killed 414 militants and 227 SDF fighters in total since then, the Observatory says.
On Saturday, coalition air strikes killed 28 Daesh fighters in and around Hajjin, while another seven militants were killed in clashes with the SDF, the monitor said.
Coalition air strikes on Daesh targets in another part of the eastern pocket killed at least 41 civilians, 10 of them children, on Thursday and Friday, it added.
A coalition spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Syria’s grinding civil war has claimed more than 360,000 lives since it erupted with the the bloody repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
A caliphate which the militants proclaimed across large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014 has crumbled in the face of multiple offensives against them but they remain a potent force.


Turkey sentences detained judge who won human rights award to 10 years

Updated 22 min 56 sec ago
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Turkey sentences detained judge who won human rights award to 10 years

  • The Council of Europe human rights body in 2017 gave Arslan, who was detained at the time, the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize
  • The decision prompted Turkey to say it would cut back its funding to the body

ANKARA: A Turkish court sentenced a judge who previously won an award for human rights to 10 years in prison over links to the network Ankara says orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday.
Murat Arslan, who has been detained for 22 months, was convicted of membership in an armed terrorist organization, after prosecutors charged him with use of the encrypted messaging app ByLock, Anadolu said.
Arslan has denied the charges and said any evidence that he had used the app was “fabricated,” Anadolu said.
The government says the outlawed app was widely used by followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the attempted coup that saw rogue soldiers commandeer tanks and aircraft, attacking parliament and killing some 250 unarmed civilians.
Gulen, a former ally of President Tayyip Erdogan who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, has condemned the coup and denied any involvement with it.
The Council of Europe human rights body in 2017 gave Arslan, who was detained at the time, the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, a decision that prompted Turkey to say it would cut back its funding to the body.
Arslan was the former head of Turkey’s Judges and Prosecutors Union, a civil legal association that was shut down by government decree in the wide crackdown that followed the coup attempt.
Since the failed coup, authorities have formally arrested some 77,000 people and sacked or suspended more than 150,000 soldiers, civil servants and more over alleged links to the coup attempt, including alleged users of ByLock.
Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern over the scale of the crackdown, saying President Tayyip Erdogan was using the putsch as a pretext to quash dissent.
The government, however, says the security measures are necessary due to the gravity of the threat it faces from Gulen’s network.