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Isis dans le Sinaï.(Photo by: TWITTER)
ISIS releases six Druze hostages
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
10/20/2018
Sandstorm used as cover for counterattack on Syrian Democratic Forces in Euphrates valley
Six Druze women and children who were abducted by ISIS in July were reportedly released over the weekend in exchange for a ransom.

According to Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned pan-Arab television news station, the released hostages included two women and four children.

ISIS is thought to still hold at least 24 women and other children it kidnapped during a massacre of Druze in the area of Sweida.

In early March ISIS filmed the murder of one woman hostage, days after Druze had released Bedouin captives, as part of a negotiated agreement. Russia and the Syrian regime had been trying to calm tensions in southern Syria after the ISIS massacre.

Druze reported that their areas in Sweida bordering a large desert area lacked security. ISIS members had been allowed to move to the desert and had been operating with impunity over the summer.

The release of only six hostages in exchange for what some sources reported was millions of dollars shows how ISIS is still able to dictate terms in Syria. Despite more than 70 countries fighting ISIS, including the US-led coalition, the organization controls part of the Syrian desert on the border with Iraq and also operates in the Euphrates Valley.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on October 19 that negotiations had taken place between ISIS and local “mediators” who appeared to be connected to the Syrian regime. “In the last 24 hours [there has been] a state of anticipation for the release of the abductees of Al-Sweida countryside who have been detained for 85 consecutive days.” The SOHR report refers to the possible release of “18 abducted children and nine women.”

Druze have been protesting the lack of progress after a previous deadline for release of the women and children expired on October 11. The difference numbers reported of those being held also leads to questions. ISIS released photos of at least 14 of the women in July, but one of the women was then murdered. A young man who was abducted by ISIS was also killed.

ISIS carried out an attack in the Euphrates valley near the area of Hajin where US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have been seeking to defeat the extremists. The SDF is a force that includes Kurds and Arabs in eastern Syria and has been the main Coalition partner in fighting ISIS. Since early August, Operation Roundup has been slowly rolling over ISIS positions, but the ISIS counterattack on October 10 caught SDF fighters by surprise. A French volunteer, Sahin Qerecox, who was fighting alongside the SDF was killed.

ISIS fighters also used the cover of a sandstorm and captured an MRAP-style armored vehicle near the town of Baghuz. Video put out by the extremists showed their fighters climbing on the vehicle and driving around in a legion of motorbikes, celebrating the counter-attack. US Army Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the coalition, said that he could confirm the counterattack did take place.

“Both forces [ISIS and the SDF] attack and counterattack, as that is part of the ongoing fighting, but anyone inferring one party has an advantage on the ground during a sandstorm is not militarily correct,” he said. “The number of SDF killed has been greatly exaggerated as usual from this enemy that feeds off disinformation.”

The coalition said it is not underestimating the will of ISIS to continue the fight, but vowed that the coalition and its partners would continue fighting until the “enduring defeat of ISIS.”
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