The Sheikhs of Dignity released the “last batch” of detainees on Friday, a pro-opposition journalist and activist in Suwayda told Syria Direct Sunday, tentatively ending the serial kidnappings that had sowed tension between the residents of Suwayda and Daraa provinces.
“These detainees were the last batch from Daraa that the Sheikhs of Dignity had,” Noura al-Basha, a member of the Syrian Revolution Coordination Union, told Syria Direct, adding that the detainees had initially been arrested over two months ago after the Sheikhs of Dignity, a group of Druze religious leaders in Suwayda province that maintain an armed wing, received information that they were intent on joining the Islamic State.
The Sheikhs of Dignity released the 18 Daraa detainees “in honor of the soul of the martyr” Sheikh al-Balaus, according to a post by the Men of Sheikh Abu Fahd Wahid al-Balaus on their official Facebook page Saturday alongside pictures of the event.
Sheikh Abu Wael Humud al-Hanawi, a member of the Sheikhs of Reason (a pro-regime group of Druze religious men), was also in attendance at the release.
The detainees had been scheduled to be freed before Eid, however circumstances, including the assassination of the Sheikhs of Dignity leader, Sheikh Wahid al-Balaus, by unknown assailants on September 4 delayed the scheduled release until this weekend, al-Basha said.
For over two years, groups in Suwayda and Daraa have taken turns kidnapping individuals from the two provinces for security reasons or ransom despite multiple attempts to negotiate a solution, including a June announcement promising increased efforts to prevent kidnappings from the Southern Front in Daraa.
“Our main concern in the Southern Front and the FSA is the preservation of the Syrian social fabric, because any destabilization” like that caused by kidnappings, “will help Assad to use the Druze minority as a tool to keep himself in power,” Essam Rayes, the spokesman for the Southern Front in Daraa told Syria Direct in June.
Two months ago, more than a thousand Suwayda residents demonstrated against regime corruption and a lack of services in the provincial capital as well as the assassination of the Sheikhs of Dignity movement’s leader.
- Photo courtesy of the Men of Sheikh Abu Fahd Wahid al-Balaus