Damascus (AFP) – Druze hostages kidnapped at the end of July by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in the Syrian province of Soueida (south) were released by the army, the Sana agency said on Thursday. at least captives have been killed.
While the government suggested that the release was the result of a military operation, other sources said it had taken place under a prisoner exchange agreement.
The army “directly confronted the terrorist organization IS, which had kidnapped women and children from the province of Soueida (…) and was able to release all the hostages”, 19 in number, the agency reported. Sana official.
She also “killed the kidnappers,” according to this source.
Public television broadcast images of veiled women, boys and at least one girl surrounded by men in military uniforms near a pickup truck in a desert landscape.
These images were filmed near the ancient city of Palmyra, in central Syria, according to the television channel.
In the evening, Sana announced that “the hostages have found their families”.
A journalist based in Soueida, Nour Radwan, told AFP that the hostages had arrived at a military base in the northern province of Soueida. They then had to go to the city of Soueida where dozens of people were waiting for them, according to him.
“I have never felt so happy in my life,” AFP Jawdat Abu Omar told AFP, whose wife and children aged 8 and 13 had been abducted.
The jihadists had kidnapped on July 25 about thirty people, mostly women and children, through a series of suicide bombings and assaults coordinated Druze in Soueida.
These attacks left more than 250 dead, one of the heaviest scores against the Druze community since the start of the war in Syria in 2011.
– Exchange of prisoners –
Radwan said in the day that the release of hostages was the “second stage” of the prisoner exchange deal negotiated by the regime and its Russian ally.
As part of the deal, two women and four children were released on October 20, in exchange for ransom money and IS detainees held by the Syrian regime.
Seventeen women and eight children linked to IS had been released, Radwan said.
The Druze now hope for the return of 20 hostages in total, not 19 as evoked by the Sana agency, but “the IS told the family of one of the hostages that they had killed her, without give no evidence, “said the same reporter.
“We are waiting for them to come to Sueida, if there are only 19, then it means that she was really killed,” he added.
Two other Druze hostages were executed by the jihadists: a student, beheaded in August, and a 25-year-old woman, killed in early October. A 65-year-old woman died in detention, according to the IS.
The Syrian army fights the jihadists in Tloul al-Safa, their last cut in the province of Soueida.
This province is dominated by the Druze community, a heterodox branch of Shia Islam. Before the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the Druze accounted for about 3% of the Syrian population, about 700,000 people.
Triggered by the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations by Assad’s power, the Syrian conflict has claimed more than 360,000 lives since 2011.