DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Islamic State group militants shot and killed two children during an operation to liberate a group of hostages from southern Syria that were being held by the extremist group since July, a father and activists said Friday.
Nashaat Abu Ammar, a resident of Sweida whose wife, two sons and daughter were among those being held by IS, said his 8-year-old son Raafat was among the two boys shot dead during the Syrian army raid to free the hostages. A 13-year-old boy, Qusay, was also killed.
"They shot him in his mother's lap," Abu Ammar told The Associated Press by telephone from Sweida, his voice breaking up with emotion.
State media reported Thursday evening that troops liberated the 19 women and children held by IS in a military operation in central Syria, triggering celebrations in Sweida. "My happiness is huge," Abu Ammar, reached by the AP, said then.
His happiness was crushed hours later when the group of hostages arrived in Sweida. Among them was the body of Raafat and his 13-year-old cousin. His wife appeared very frail, he said, adding that the group was barely being fed to stay alive.
The 19 women and children were among 30 people kidnapped by IS in Sweida on July 25 when militants of the extremist group ambushed residents and went on a killing spree that left least 216 people dead.
The rare attacks in the 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, devastated the community and 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.
Russian Lt. Gen. Vladimir Savchenko said the hostages were freed by the Syrian military Thursday "in an operation directed by Russian military officers." He did not give any details of the operation but claimed that no hostages were hurt.
He also said IS kept the hostages in brutal conditions, keeping them in pits where they could barely sit or lie down, giving them no food for days and providing no medical care.
Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and wields significant power in the war-torn country.
Since July, one woman from the group of Sweida hostages 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 the talks failed and Syrian troops launched a broad offensive against IS in southern Syria.
Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report from Moscow.