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.


Egypt to go to Bahrain to ‘evaluate’ Kushner’s Palestinian development plan: minister

Updated 10 min 43 sec ago
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Egypt to go to Bahrain to ‘evaluate’ Kushner’s Palestinian development plan: minister

  • Manama event will discuss a US-led economic vision to be presented by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner

CAIRO: Egypt will take part in a Bahrain conference this week on Palestinian economic development in order to evaluate the proposed $50 billion “Peace to Prosperity” plan, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Monday.
The June 25-26 conference in the Bahraini capital Manama will discuss a US-led economic vision to be presented by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, part of a wider plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
But the lack of a political solution, which Washington has said would be unveiled later, has prompted rejection not only from Palestinians but in Arab countries with which Israel would seek normal relations.
“It is important for Egypt to participate to listen to this proposition and evaluate it...but not in terms of approving it,” Shoukry, whose country made peace with Israel in 1979, said in a televised interview with Russia Today.
“We have the right to evaluate it, view it and develop a vision about it, but the final decision about it goes back to the main stakeholder — the Palestinian Authority.”
The economy-first approach toward reviving the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in which Palestinians are seeking an independent state, has prompted a Palestinian boycott of the conference.
Kushner’s plan includes 179 infrastructure and business projects. More than half of the $50 billion would be spent in the economically troubled Palestinian territories over 10 years while the rest would be split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.
The plan provides for infrastructure projects including power, water and road connections in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, according to an outline released by the White House. Investments there could benefit Palestinians living in adjacent Gaza.
Palestinian officials briefed on Kushner’s plan told Reuters the political aspect envisages an expansion of Gaza, a small coastal strip, into Egypt’s North Sinai region, though Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy, said “rumors” about such a redrawing of borders were false.
“There will be no renouncing one bit, one grain of sand from the lands of Sinai, which many honorable Egyptians were martyred defending,” Shoukry said.