Syrian regime swaps rebel detainees for bodies of soldiers

Syrian regime swaps rebel detainees for bodies of soldiers
The Syrian regime and an Hama-based rebel group have exchanged detainees and remains of slain soldiers, as regime forces and rebel groups made gains against IS over past two days.
3 min read
23 November, 2015
Syrian rebel groups exchanged Sunday night the bodies of 29 regime soldiers in return for six female detainees the regime had captured in the Hama province.

The soldiers were killed earlier in fighting in the town of Morek. The exchange took place through the mediation of the Syrian Red Crescent.

Abu al-Yaman al-Hamwi, media activist from Hama, told al-Araby al-Jadeed the bodies were held by the Syrian rebel group Jund al-Aqsa in Hama.

"Opposition factions in the Hama province still have hundreds of [regime] detainees and bodies," he added, pointing out that the 29 bodies exchanged had been exhumed from their graves at random.

The activist said another major swap would soon take place between the regime and the rebels, predicting a large number of detainees would be released.

Syrian rebels and the regime have made several exchange deals in the past, often involved swapping prisoners held by the regime for the bodies of regime soldiers.

It is hoped such deals and local ceasefires could offer a blueprint for future nationwide cessation of hostilities in the future.

Syrian regime captures IS-held town

The Syrian army and allied militia, backed by Russian bombardments, took control of two towns in western Syria after heavy battles with Islamic State (IS) fighters, reports said Monday.

Syrian state media reported the military and a local force had taken control of Mheen and Hawwarin towns, to the southeast of Homs, and had killed a large number of IS militants.

The two towns lie to the east of the north-south highway running through Syria's major cities that is crucial to control of mainly government-held territory in the west of the country. They are also close to roads that link the IS-held city of Palmyra in the central Syrian desert to western cities.

The government's next push is expected to target the nearby town of Qaryatain and later the historic town of Palmyra, which was taken by IS in May.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in remarks published Sunday that his forces are advancing on "almost" all fronts thanks to Russian airstrikes.

The head of the London-based monitoring group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel-Rahman, said Russian warplanes and helicopter gunships played a major role in opening the way for troops to advance in the desert near Homs.

He added that around 50 IS fighters were killed in days of fighting in Mheen, Hawareen and surrounding areas.

Homs-based opposition activist Bebars al-Talawy said that government forces were backed by members of Lebanon's Hizballah group.

Syrian troops have captured dozens of villages in northern, western and central Syria since the Russian airstrikes began.

Battles between rebel coalitions and IS forces, meanwhile, continued in al-Hasakah province, to the east.

The Syria Revolutionaries Front, an alliance of Free Syrian Army brigades and rebels with the Islamic Front, fought IS forces in the countryside of al-Hasakah province on Sunday, SOHR reported, while the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Arab, Assyrian and Kurdish rebel groups, continued battling IS in the same region.

The SDF announced its formation in mid-October before launching an anti-IS offensive in al-Hasakah province, with support from U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, early this month.

'Hundreds of civilians killed' in international strikes

SOHR said the Russian airstrikes have killed 403 civilians, including 97 children under the age of 18. It said the strikes killed 381 ISIS fighters as well as 547 gunmen from other insurgent groups.

The Violations Documentation Center in Syria, an activist group that keeps track of Syria's dead, wounded and missing persons, said that the first 45 days of Russian airstrikes killed 526 civilians, including 137 children and 71 women.

Meanwhile, SOHR said up to 250 civilians have been killed in US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria since the Obama administration launched its campaign of airstrikes to target IS and other extremists in Syria last year, including 66 children.