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.


US may soon pause preparations for delivering F-35s to Turkey

Updated 15 min 28 sec ago
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US may soon pause preparations for delivering F-35s to Turkey

WASHINGTON: The US could soon freeze preparations for delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, officials told Reuters, in what would be the strongest signal yet by Washington that Ankara cannot have both the advanced aircraft and Russia’s S-400 air defense system.
The US is nearing an inflection point in a years-long standoff with Turkey, a NATO ally, after so far failing to sway President Tayyip Erdogan that buying a Russian air defense system would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft.
“The S-400 is a computer. The F-35 is a computer. You don’t hook your computer to your adversary’s computer and that’s basically what we would be doing,” Katie Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told Reuters.
While no decision has been made yet, US officials confirmed that Washington was considering halting steps now underway to ready Turkey to receive the F-35, which is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
“There (are) decisions that come up constantly about things being delivered in anticipation of them eventually taking custody of the planes,” said Wheelbarger. “So there’s a lot of things in train that can be paused to send signals to them (that we’re serious),” she added.
However, another US official said one of the measures the US was looking at was alternatives to an engine depot in Turkey, without giving more details. The official said any potential alternatives would likely be somewhere in Western Europe. Turkey is home to an F-35 engine overhaul depot in the western city of Eskisehir.
If Turkey was removed from the F-35 program, it would be the most serious crisis in the relationship between the two allies in decades, according to Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This (the F-35 standoff) is really a symptom, not a cause of the problem between the two countries,” Aliriza said.
Many US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, worry that Turkey is drifting away from NATO and watch improving relations between Ankara and Moscow with concern. The prospect of Russian contractors or officials on Turkish bases that also are home to the F-35 is unfathomable to many US officials.
The tensions could further escalate. If Ankara goes ahead with the Russian deal, Turkey also could face US sanctions.
Despite US hopes that Turkey may still forgo the S-400, experts say Erdogan may have already backed himself into a rhetorical corner. He has repeatedly said he would not reverse course on the S-400, saying earlier in March: “Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat.”
A decision to drop Turkey from the F-35 program would have broader repercussions, since Ankara helps manufacture parts for the aircraft, including components of the landing gear, cockpit displays and aircraft engines.