Syria army frees 19 Druze hostages from Daesh

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A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on November 8, 2018 shows a group of Druze women and children, abducted in July from the southern province of Sweida by Daesh, standing in front of a bus upon being freed at an undisclosed location. (AFP / SANA)
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This handout image made available by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) Telegram page on November 8, 2018, shows a Syrian soldier offering a drink to a girl amongst a group of Druze women and children, abducted in July from the southern province of Sweida by the Islamic State group, following their release at a undisclosed location. (AFP)
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Daesh seized about 30 people when it rampaged through Sweida from a desert enclave outside the city, killing more than 200 people and detonating suicide vests. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2018
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Syria army frees 19 Druze hostages from Daesh

  • Hostages freed in an area northeast of Palmyra after the army fought with Daesh militants
  • Sweida, which is under state rule, has a mainly Druze religious community

BEIRUT: Syrian troops have liberated 19 women and children hostages held by Daesh since July in a military operation in the country's center, ending a months-long crisis that has stunned Syria's Druze religious minority, state media reported Thursday. An opposition war monitor said the release was part of an exchange.
SANA news agency said in its report that the operation occurred in the Hamima area east of the historic town of Palmyra. It said all Daesh fighters in the area where the hostages were held have been killed.
The Suwayda 24 activist collective quoted local officials as saying the women and children held by Daesh have all been freed.
"My happiness is huge," Nashaat Abu Ammar, whose wife, two sons and daughter are among those freed, told The Associated Press by telephone.
The 19 women and children were among 30 people kidnapped by Daesh in the southern province of Sweida on July 25 when militants of the extremist group ambushed residents and went on a killing spree that left at least 216 people dead.
The rare attacks in Sweida province, 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, shattered the calm of a region that had been largely spared from the worst of the violence of Syria's seven-year long civil war.
A Syrian opposition war monitor contradicted the reports on state media, saying Daesh set free the hostages in return for the government's release of women related to Daesh fighters and commanders who were held by Syrian authorities as well as a monetary payment.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was not immediately clear how much money the government paid for the release of the hostages.
State TV aired footage of the women, children and teenagers in a desert area standing with soldiers who gave them bread and water. The soldier then asked the women and children for their names and wrote them on a piece of paper. The TV later aired footage showing the former hostages having meals around a table.
"We are living the joy of victory in Syria," Druze cleric Sheikh Kameel Nasr told Syrian state TV.
Since July, one woman died in Daesh's 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 after the talks failed, Syrian troops launched a broad offensive against Daesh in southern Syria.
The July 25 attack on the southern city of Sweida and nearby villages was one of the deadliest by the extremists since they lost most of the land they once held in Syria and Iraq.
"I am so happy they have been freed and I thank the Syrian army for that," Abu Ammar said. The man said he is getting ready to leave his village to the provincial capital of Sweida where the freed were expected to be brought later.
By sunset, scores of people gathered in the city of Sweida waiting for the return of the former hostages.


Explosion in north Syria targets Al-Qaeda gunmen, kills 11

Updated 15 min 45 sec ago
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Explosion in north Syria targets Al-Qaeda gunmen, kills 11

  • The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib
  • The Observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants

BEIRUT: An explosion outside an office belonging to an Al-Qaeda-linked group in northwestern Syria on Friday killed at least 11 people and wounded several others, opposition activists said.
The blast comes a week after members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, or HTS, took over control of wide parts of Idlib province and the surrounding countryside after forcing rival insurgents to accept a deal for a civil administration run by HTS in their areas.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib.
The Observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants.
In the country’s east, an airstrike in the last area held by Daesh killed at least 20 people.
State news agency SANA said 20 people were killed in the airstrike on the Daesh-held village of Baghouz, while the Observatory said 23 people were killed including 10 IS members.
They both blamed the US-led coalition that has been providing air cover to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their monthslong offensive to capture the area from extremists near the Iraqi border.
The SDF has intensified its offensive over the past weeks on the Daesh-held area.
Meanwhile in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan met with US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to discuss the situation in Syria as the United States prepares to withdraw troops.
Graham, a prominent voice on foreign affairs in the US, met with Erdogan and other Turkish officials Friday for talks that were also expected to include a proposal for the creation of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria.
The visit comes days after a suicide bombing, claimed by Daesh, killed two US service members and two American civilians in the northeastern town of Manbij.
Graham has said he is concerned that US President Donald Trump’s troop withdrawal announcement had emboldened Daesh militants and created dangerous uncertainty for American allies.
The Pentagon identified three of the four Americans killed in the suicide bomb attack in Manbij — Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, from upstate New York and based at Fort Meade, Maryland; and a civilian, Scott A. Wirtz, from St. Louis.
The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.