Russia talking with ISIS to free 36 women, children abducted in Syria’s Sweida
Syrian regime ally Russia is negotiating with the ISIS over the release of Druze women and children kidnapped by the terrorist group, a Druze religious leader said Friday.
On July 25, ISIS carried out a series of coordinated attacks in the southern province of Sweida that killed more than 250 people, mostly civilians.
It was the deadliest attack ever to target the mostly government-held province and the Druze religious minority that populates it.
ISIS also abducted 36 Druze women and children from a village in Sweida’s east, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.
It said four women had since escaped while two had died, leaving 14 women and 16 children in ISIS captivity.
Top Druze religious leader, Sheikh Yussef Jarbua, told AFP that Russia was in talks with the extremist group over their release.
“The Russian side is carrying out negotiations in coordination with the Syrian government,” Jarbua said.
ISIS “planned to take captives to put pressure on the Syrian state and implement specific demands”, he said.
Jarbua did not detail the demands, but the Observatory says ISIS is seeking the release of extremists captured by the regime in the neighboring province of Daraa.
ISIS fighters once held a patch of Daraa known as the Yarmuk Basin, but regime forces have in recent weeks ousted them from all of the towns and villages there.
Syria’s state media says regime troops are pursuing the last remaining extremists who fled to nearby valleys.
Since Moscow intervened in Syria in 2015, it has helped the regime retake swathes of territory militarily but has also negotiated rebel surrenders on its behalf.
ISIS has not claimed the kidnappings but local sources say the families have been sent photos and videos of their loved ones via Whatsapp.
Jarbua urged the “international community and the United Nations to help us free the hostages and exert pressure so civilians are not used as human shields”.
“The families of the captives are terribly sad and sick with worry,” he said.
Activists from Sweida have expressed concern over reports that one of the women, captured by ISIS with her four children, had given birth to her fifth child in captivity.
The extremist group had called the woman’s relatives to tell them she had given birth, according to Nour Radwan, who heads news outlet Sweida24.
Relatives confirmed the woman was nine months pregnant when she was kidnapped during ISIS’s rampage last week, which also killed her husband, Radwan said.
Sweida24 said the oldest woman abducted was 60.
Sweida had until last week largely remained isolated from Syria’s seven-year conflict.
Druze, which made up three percent of Syria’s population before 2011, are considered Muslim but ISIS see them as heretics.