Syria Frees Women Taken Hostage By ISIS During One of War's Deadliest Attacks, Reports Say

The Syrian military has reportedly freed the remaining hostages taken by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) over the summer in a deadly jihadi assault against towns in the majority-Druze southern province of Al-Sweida.

In the latest stage of a final push to defeat the militants, Syrian troops on Thursday stormed one of the country's last ISIS holdouts in the region of Humeima, northeast of ancient Palmyra city. The enclave was believed to be where the jihadis were keeping 19 female hostages among about 30 people—mostly women and children—who were kidnapped when the group launched a multi-pronged series of attacks across Al-Sweida on July 25, killing more than 250 people.

"In a heroic and precise operation, a group from the Syrian Arab Army in the Humeima area northeast of Palmyra managed to liberate the civilians abducted by the ISIS terrorist organization from Sweida province weeks ago," the official Syrian Arab News Agency and the state-run Alikhbaria Syria news outlet wrote.

"After a fierce battle, our heroes managed to free all the abductees and kill the terrorist kidnappers," they added.

Alikhbaria Syria shared photos showing a group of women sitting around a table and eating beside soldiers and a large portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The outlet said that these were among the women, and potentially children, who had been freed. 

The Syrian government was reportedly under pressure from the local Druze population to free the hostages. The Druze, a religious minority, have largely supported Assad throughout his seven-year war against rebels and jihadis, but some leaders have reportedly claimed in recent months that he was not doing to ensure the safe release of the abductees.

Since the mass kidnapping, ISIS has said it executed at least two of the women in captivity, demanding a deal as the jihadis struggled to resist Syrian military operations—supported by Russia and various pro-government militias, many of which were Shiite Muslim groups backed by Iran—in the nearby volcanic fields of Tulul al-Safa and east of Palmyra.

Last month, six of the hostages were released in a swap with the government, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitor based in the United Kingdom. The activists confirmed the release of the hostages Wednesday, suggesting their freedom may have come as part of a deal and "was hastened after the mobilization of regime forces in the area of Tulul al-Safa on the administrative border between the governorates of Al-Sweida and Damascus."

GettyImages-1046471816 Elderly members of the Druze community stand holding a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a rally in the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on October 6 commemorating the 45th anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The war produced a ceasefire on the disputed territory, but many Druze have demanded that Israel return the region to Syria. JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images

The Druze faith emerged from the Shiite Muslim sect of Ismailism in the 11th century. Syria's ruling Assad family adheres to another sect of Shia Islam known as the Alawites. The Syrian government has sought the support of a number of minority communities in Syria, including Christians, to resist an uprising comprised mostly of members of the country's Sunni Muslim majority.

The United States, which initially joined regional allies in supporting the 2011 Syrian insurrection against Assad, has since switched its focus to defeating ISIS and has secured the support of another Syrian minority: the Kurds. The largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces also began a final push against ISIS in September, but has stalled this fight as a fellow U.S. ally bombed them.

Turkey considers certain Kurdish militias such as the People's Protection Units to be terrorist organizations due to an ongoing insurgency at home and has launched strikes across Kurdish positions on the northern border. Turkey in September struck a deal with Russia to establish a cease-fire in northwestern Idlib province, the last bastion of support for the Islamist-led opposition against Assad.

GettyImages-1052815250 (1) Syrian families walk as Russian and Syrian forces stand guard at the Abu al-Duhur crossing on the eastern edge of Syria's Idlib province on October 23. Civilians fled rebel-held areas in Idlib province and entered government-held territories, some of them returning to their villages that were recaptured by the government earlier this year. GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images

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