An attempt by Syrian government officials and the Islamic State to negotiate a prisoner exchange in southern Syria has failed. Activists report talks collapsed after IS introduced new conditions.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the negotiations were supposed to lead to an exchange of civilians captured by IS for detained IS fighters, the Associated Press reports. Last week, the jihadist terrorist organization abducted around 30 women and children during fighting in the province of Sweida. During the negotiations, the government expressed willingness to release 150 IS fighters and opened a path for 100 besieged IS militants to leave the battlefield.
Government airstrikes resumed, according to the Syrian Observatory, after IS demanded Syrian troops withdraw from Sweida and residents of the province commit to refraining from future attacks against IS militants.
The women and children kidnapped by IS are members of Syria’s minority Druze community. The Syrian Observatory said 20 women and 16 children from al-Shobki village in Sweida province were abducted last week. Four women escaped, while two died, leaving 30 in IS hands. IS attacks in the province also left over 200 people dead.
The Druze community accounts for most of Sweida province’s population. The province had managed to avoid much of the violence in Syria’s civil war prior to last week’s attacks.
Located on the eastern edges of the province, the village of al-Shobki was especially vulnerable to IS attack. "Most of its residents are farmers and don't have much more than hunting rifles in terms of weapons, so there was little resistance from Al-Shobki compared to other villages," said Nour Radwan, a reporter and head of the activist group Sweida 24.
More than 400,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Syria since the start of the civil war. Around 5.6 million have been forced to leave the country, while 6.5 million have been internally displaced.