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

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.

Rescue mission aids starving lions in neglected Sudan zoo

Updated 2 min 41 sec ago

Rescue mission aids starving lions in neglected Sudan zoo

KHARTOUM: Four lions in a rundown zoo in the capital of Sudan, wasting away from hunger, are undergoing lifesaving medical treatment from an international animal rescue organization.

The plight of the rail-thin lions in Al-Qurashi Park in Khartoum set off an outpouring of sympathy and donations from around the world. At least five lions, both male and female, once inhabited the zoo. One lioness died of starvation last week.

On Tuesday, veterinarians and wildlife experts from Vienna-based animal welfare group Four Paws International conducted medical checks at the park, which has fallen on hard times for lack of money and attention.

Amir Khalil, head of the Four Paws emergency mission, said he was “shocked” by the poor state of the lions, their cramped quarters and the park’s general disarray.

“I don’t understand why no one was given the task of feeding them or how authorities could just overlook this,” he said, describing two of the remaining four as in critical condition, “dehydrated ... a third of their normal weight.”

Four Paws faces a daunting task and its two-day trip has been dogged by challenges from the start. 

When the team arrived late on Monday, customs agents confiscated most of their luggage and essential medicine, citing a lack of prior approval. The group says it’s operating with just a fraction of its equipment, and scrambling to find local alternatives.

Although the group typically carries out rescue missions, it has no immediate plan to transport the animals in Al-Qurashi to better conditions abroad.