BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces are pressing their offensive in the country’s south despite Daesh’s threats to kill civilians it holds captive there.
Pro-regime TV and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, both reported regime attacks on the Yarmouk basin region on Monday in southern Syria.
The extremists abducted several people, mostly women, in a wave of attacks in the area last Wednesday.
During the onslaught, Daesh attacked a major city and villages in Sweida province, killing dozens of people. Clashes with militiamen battling Daesh also left scores dead.
Daesh on Saturday aired a video of one of the women abducted in which she says they could be freed if the regime releases Daesh detainees and halts the offensive.
Residents said Daesh kidnapped dozens of Druze women and children when it attacked their village last week in Sweida.
Sweida, which is mainly regime-held and populated with members of Syria’s Druze minority, had been largely insulated from the conflict raging in the rest of the country since 2011.
But on Wednesday, a string of suicide blasts and shootings claimed by Daesh left more than 250 people dead in the provincial capital and nearby villages, most of them civilians.
After the attack Daesh also abducted several dozen women and children from one village, according to the Observatory and Sweida residents.
The Observatory said 36 Druze women and children were abducted, but that four women had since managed to escape while another two had died.
That left 14 women and 16 children in Daesh captivity, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. Another 17 men were unaccounted for, but it was unclear if they were also kidnapped.
Daesh has not claimed the kidnappings and no details on them could be found on its propaganda channels.
According to news outlet Sweida24, the 36 civilians were kidnapped on Wednesday from the village of Al-Shabki, in the eastern hinterlands of Sweida province.
Sweida24 and other online outlets published a video that appeared to show one of the hostages making demands of the Syrian regime, purportedly on Daesh’s behalf.
AFP could not independently verify its authenticity, but several Sweida residents confirmed that a woman appearing in the footage was among those missing after the attacks.
The hostages mainly hail from two large families in Al-Shabki, said reporter Nour Radwan, who heads Sweida24.
The remote village lies in the eastern edges of Sweida province and suffered some of the deadliest violence from Wednesday’s attacks, with more than 60 civilians killed in Al-Shabki alone, Radwan said.
“Most of its residents are farmers and don’t have much more than hunting rifles in terms of weapons, so there was little resistance from Al-Shabki compared to other villages,” he said.
“When IS (Daesh) saw that, it kidnapped a first batch of people from their homes and took them east toward the Badiya, according to survivors,” Nour added.
The Badiya is Syria’s vast desert, which stretches from the country’s center to its eastern border with Iraq and includes several isolated Daesh-held pockets.
Daesh has also reached out to the families of those abducted with pictures and videos.
The terrorists are demanding the release by the Syrian government “of detained Daesh-linked people, whose numbers are now being negotiated,” said Radwan.
Daesh also wants a halt to a Syrian regime offensive on terrorist positions, he said.
Religious leaders from the Druze community have since stepped in, Radwan and another local source with knowledge of the talks said.
“As of Sunday, the hostages were still being held in the Badiya. Negotiations are happening between Daesh and Druze sheikhs,” said the source.
Daesh has lost urban strongholds in Syria but still holds parts of the Badiya, including northeastern areas in Sweida and territory by the Iraqi border.
The terrorists also control a pocket in Daraa province, directly west of Sweida.
Backed by Russia, Syrian regime troops have been waging an assault on a Daesh-held pocket of Daraa for nearly two weeks.
On Monday, they began bombing operations ahead of an attack on the main Daesh-held town of Ash-SHajjara in Daraa, Syrian state television said.
Since its bloody rise to power in 2014, Daesh has carried out multiple mass abductions in Syria and Iraq, including of minorities.
It kidnapped more than 220 Assyrian Christians in northeast Syria in 2015 and another 270 Christians from a central village the following year. Most of the hostages were released after negotiations.
Wednesday’s violence was the worst Sweida had seewn since the war began, and one of Daesh’s deadliest attacks across the country.
Daesh attackers detonated suicide bombs in Sweida city and villages to the north and east, while others shot and stabbed residents.
A total of 139 civilians were among more than 250 people killed, according to the Observatory. The remaining were pro-government fighters or residents who had picked up arms to defend their homes.