Syria forces free 19 Druze women, children held hostage by ISIS

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Syria’s army has freed a group of 19 women and children who were abducted by ISIS during a raid on the city of Sweida and neighboring villages in July, Syrian state television reported on Thursday.

The terrorist group, which lost most of its territory in Syria last year, 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.

The hostages were freed in an area northeast of the desert city of Palmyra after the army fought with ISIS extremists in what state television described as “a precise operation”. It did not saw when the fighting took place.

Six other hostages from the same group were freed in October. A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in August another of the hostages had been beheaded.

Sweida, which is under state rule, has a mainly Druze religious community. Druze authorities and ISIS have held negotiations for the release of the hostages.

Seven years into Syria’s civil war, the government of President Bashar al-Assad controls more than half the country with military backing from Russia and Iran.

The frontlines with areas controlled by Turkish or US-backed forces appear to have stabilized for now. ISIS still controls a small area in the far east of Syria and a patch of desert in the south.

Russian negotiations

Late in October, it was reported that Moscow was seeking to negotiate a deal with ISIS by recruiting young men in Syria’s Sweida and enlisting them in compulsory conscription in return for the release of abducted women that are held by the extremist group.

Sweida residents were awaiting the results of these negotiations over the release of Druze women and children kidnapped by the terrorist group on July 25, after a series of coordinated attacks in the southern province of Sweida that killed more than 250 people, mostly civilians.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, anticipation was very high in the province, where many were saying that the release of the abductees was expected to happen soon in October itself.

Opposition to the Syrian war

Sweida residents, who are mostly a Druze religious minority, have been in fierce opposition of the Syrian war, as many of their youth serve in the army.

Russian news agency Sputnik revealed another deal between the Assad regime’s forces and ISIS to release six of the abductees, in exchange for 17 ISIS members detained by the regime, without specifying the date for the implementation of the agreement.

These deals come 24 hours after the signing of the first ceasefire agreement in Tulul al-Safa, a mountainous region in eastern Sweida.

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.