BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria’s army has freed a group of 19 women and children who were abducted by Islamic State during a raid on the city of Sweida and neighboring villages in July, Syrian state television reported on Thursday.
The jihadist 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 Islamic State militants 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 Islamic State 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 U.S.-backed forces appear to have stabilized for now. Islamic State still controls a small area in the far east of Syria and a patch of desert in the south.
Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens