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

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

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

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.


Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
Updated 34 min 23 sec ago

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 

Syrian White Helmets given funds to make PPE 
  • With millions living in tents across country’s northwest, threat of COVID-19 is severe
  • $1.6m awarded by non-profit organization funded by UK, US, Canadian, Dutch governments

LONDON: Syria’s White Helmets, the civilian rescue group that recovers victims from rubble after airstrikes in the war-torn country, is now making personal protective equipment (PPE) to further its life-saving mission.
The civil defense service, which has worked to reduce the harm of indiscriminate shelling from the Assad regime, has received a $1.6 million award for the production of PPE from a non-profit organization funded by the UK, US, Canadian and Dutch governments.
Funds from the Humanitarian Grand Challenge group have led to the creation of a PPE-producing facility that has manufactured some 2 million masks.
It is also producing protective gowns and face shields — key equipment in the fight against COVID-19 — and handling the disposal of used PPE for northwest Syria’s population, who live in a precarious area that is predominantly out of the regime’s control. 
“The COVID-19 pandemic was the most difficult challenge the White Helmets faced in 2020,” said Munir Mustafa, its deputy general manager for humanitarian affairs.
“We witnessed the spread of the virus in north-western Syria among humanitarian workers and medical personnel, while the global pandemic made cross-borders logistics almost impossible.”
The White Helmets has enhanced community efforts to keep people safe from COVID-19 amid pressing security challenges.
“Our volunteers and fellow humanitarians, health care providers and other essential workers are safer now and can continue caring for Syrian civilians and responding to the pandemic,” Mustafa said.
The White Helmets, established in 2014, was originally formed for search-and-rescue efforts and to broaden the provision of first responders. It claims to have saved some 120,000 lives.
Its role has developed as challenges facing the Syrian people have grown. Violence in the country has demolished health care facilities, decimating communities and cutting off millions from crucial medical care. 
The bombing of civilian areas has forced many to flee to temporary refugee facilities that are often cramped and in poor condition.
With millions living in tents across the country’s northwest, the threat of COVID-19 is severe.
Around 500 cases of COVID-19 are being recorded per day in northwest Syria, but experts say the true number is much higher due to inadequate testing infrastructure.
The Humanitarian Grand Challenge said: “The White Helmets’ ability to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment inside Syria will not only protect those working in the overwhelmed health system, but reduce the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable.”