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Six Sweida hostages freed from Islamic State - Syrian state media, Observatory

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By Reuters

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Six hostages were freed on Saturday from Islamic State, which has held several women and children captive since it attacked Syria’s Sweida city three months ago, state media and a monitor said.

Islamic State militants staged multiple suicide attacks in Sweida and overran nearby villages in southwestern Syria on July 25, killing more than 200 people, many of them civilians.

Sweida, which is under state rule, has a mainly Druze community. Druze authorities and Islamic State have held negotiations for the release of the hostages.

Syrian state news agency SANA said two women and four children returned home on Saturday after being kidnapped from a village east of Sweida city.

“As a result of the army’s siege on the terrorists, and efforts by the concerned entities, six of the 29 hostages were freed, and the rest will be freed very soon,” SANA cited Sweida Governor Amer al-Eshi as saying.

Islamic State fighters were holding at least 16 children among its captives in the Sweida desert and had beheaded one hostage, Human Rights Watch said in August.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have been battling the militants in a small Islamic State enclave northeast of Sweida city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitoring group, said the militants released the first group of hostages after talks with local authorities.

Pro-government forces had amassed heavily around the Islamic State pocket to pressure the militants, it said.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut; Additional reporting by Nayera Abdallah in Cairo. Editing by Jane Merriman)