DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian troops have liberated 19 women and children hostages held by the Islamic State group since July in a military operation in the country's center, ending a crisis that has stunned Syria's Druze minority, state media reported Thursday.
SANA news agency said in its report that the operation occurred in the Hamima area east of the historic town of Palmyra. It said all IS fighters in the area where the hostages were held have been killed.
The Suwayda 24 activist collective quoted local officials as saying the women and children held by IS have all been freed.
The 19 women and children were among 30 people kidnapped by IS in the southern province of Sweida on July 25 when they carried out a raid that left at least 216 people dead.
The rare attacks in Sweida province, populated mainly by Syria's minority Druze, came amid a government offensive elsewhere in the country's south. The coordinated attacks across the province, which included several suicide bombings, shattered the calm of a region that had been largely spared from the worst of the violence of Syria's seven-year long civil war.
"We are living the joy of victory in Syria," Druze cleric Sheikh Kameel Nasr told Syrian state TV. "It is regrettable to see the brutality of Daesh" he added, using an Arabic term to refer to IS.
Since July, one woman died in IS custody while another was shot dead by the extremists. In August, a 19-year-old man was also killed in detention.
Six other hostages, two women and four children, were freed in an exchange with the government last month. Negotiations were expected to free the remaining hostages but after the talks failed, Syrian troops launched a broad offensive against IS in southern Syria.
The July 25 attack on the southern city of Sweida and nearby villages was one of the deadliest by the extremists since they lost most of the land they once held in Syria and Iraq.
Elsewhere in Syria, opposition activists and paramedics reported that two blasts in rebel-held parts of northern Syria have inflicted casualties.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the first explosion occurred in the northern town of Azaz wounding six children while the opposition's Syrian Civil Defense said four were wounded including three children.
The observatory and other opposition activists reported another blast in the town of Jinderis saying a bomb went off outside an office of the Turkey-backed Failaq al-Sham rebel group killing three fighters and wounding seven.
Azaz and Jeideris are controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters. The two towns were once controlled by Kurdish fighters opposed to Turkey.
Explosions in rebel-held parts of northern Syria are not uncommon and have killed and wounded dozens in recent months.