IS frees six Druze women, children in Syria after three-month ordeal
The Islamic State group has released two women and four children among 27 surviving Druze hostages it seized during a deadly July attack on the minority community's heartland in southern Syria.
State television broadcast footage of the six arriving in the city of Suweida on Saturday, joyful at being reunited with their families but haggard after their three-month ordeal.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said their release was the first part of a deal that would see at least 60 IS prisoners released in exchange and a $27 million ransom paid.
The jihadists abducted around 30 people - mostly women and children - from Suweida province in late July during the deadliest attack on Syria's Druze community of the seven-year civil war.
As negotiations for their release dragged on, families led a series of protests outside regime offices in Sweida to demand more be done.
"I cannot describe my joy," Rasmia Abu Amar told state television after being reunited with her husband.
"But it is incomplete - my son has not yet been released," she said, her hair covered by a white headscarf.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the six were freed on Friday night and that further hostage releases were expected "in the next few days or hours".
Prisoner swaps and ransoms
He said that in return for the release of all of the hostages, the Syrian regime had agreed to free 60 Islamic State group prisoners and pay a ransom of $27 million.
"Nine IS women prisoners held by the regime have already been handed over to the group along with seven children," Abdel Rahman said.
During the coordinated assaults on 25 July, IS carried out suicide bombings, shootings and stabbings that left more than 250 people dead, most of them civilians.
Suweida province is the heartland of the country's Druze minority, which made up around three percent of Syria's pre-war population - or around 700,000 people.
Followers of a secretive offshoot of Islam, the Druze are considered heretics by the Sunni extremists of IS.
The jihadists executed a 19-year-old male student among the hostages in August and then a 25-year-old woman in early October. IS said a 65-year-old woman being held by the group also died from illness.
Negotiations between regime ally Russia and the jihadists for the release of the hostages had stalled. But the latest round of talks appeared to have paid off - albeit it with a stiff price.
The Observatory said IS had also demanded the halting of an offensive against them in Suweida.