17 freed Druze hostages return to south Syria homes

Druze women and children, abducted in July from Sweida by Daesh (the so-called IS), pose for a picture as they are being welcomed by relatives upon their arrival in their hometown in the southern Syrian province of Sweida on Thursday night. — AFP

BEIRUT — Seventeen civilians from Syria’s Druze minority who had been kidnapped in July by Daesh (the so-called IS) returned home safely on Friday, a local media outlet reported.

State media announced on Thursday that 19 hostages had been freed following a military operation against the militants in the southern province of Sweida.

But the head of local channel Sweida 24 said only 17 returned to their homes in the province early on Friday, indicating that three other hostages had died.

“Seventeen hostages returned,” Nour Radwan said.

Two children were killed as they tried to escape the truck where they were being held by Daesh, during clashes with the army, Sweida 24 reported a freed female hostage as saying.

They were aged seven and 13, Radwan said.

The community had also been hoping that another woman would come home, Radwan said, after Daesh claimed they killed her in October but did not send proof. She did not arrive home, however.

“It seems that Daesh killed the woman at the beginning of October,” Radwan said.

Daesh militants abducted about 30 people — mostly women and children — from Sweida in late July during the deadliest attack on Syria’s Druze community of the seven-year civil war.

The militants freed two women and four children last month in a prisoner swap that also saw women and children related to Daesh fighters freed from government detention centers.

Daesh executed a 19-year-old male student among the hostages in August and then a 25-year-old woman in early October.

The militants said a 65-year-old woman held by the group died from illness.

The army on Thursday said that the hostages’ release was the result of a military operation, but other sources said it came after negotiations.

In the July 25 attack, Daesh killed more than 250 people, most of them civilians, in a wave of suicide bombings, shootings, and stabbings across Sweida province.

The province is the heartland of the country’s Druze minority, which made up roughly three percent of Syria’s pre-war population — or about 700,000 people. — AFP