Latakia Countryside Captives: New Video Brings Back Issue to the Spotlight

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Three of the Latakia captives in the back of an undisclosed car. Al-Akhbar

Published Monday, February 2, 2015

Fifty-four civilians, women and children, have been held captive for 17 months by armed groups in the northern Latakia countryside. Their fate remains unknown, and the only news about them is communicated through brief phone calls occasionally allowed by the kidnappers. In the phone calls, the captives ask their families to communicate with the Syrian authorities and fulfill the militants’ demands in order to secure their release.

Latakia — Abu Mohammed, whose wife and daughter have been kidnapped, says that “the militants have a fixed demand: the release of their prisoners from Syrian jails.”

“If they wanted money, I would have sold everything I own to have my wife and daughter back. But their demand is in the hands of the government, which I fear has now little consideration for our captives.”

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Abu Mohammed said that each time his wife calls him, she begs him to do something, and tells him that the kidnappers are holding a large number of captives in a small room.

This time, news of the abductees came in a YouTube video titled “An exclusive video documenting 54 hostages neglected by the Syrian regime for 17 months.” The video begins by showing a veiled woman carrying a child in her arms, and surrounded by three others. She introduces herself, saying: “I am Lina Atallah Qadrou, and these are my children.”

Each child then says his or her name: Dala’ Ayman Maryam, Ahmed Ayman Maryam, and Farah Ayman Maryam. The mother introduces the child she is carrying in her arms: Mohammed Ayman Maryam. She concludes: Today is December 6, 2014.

Different faces make the same appearance, until the video ends with a scene of all the women and children, and a woman saying: “We have been here for one year and four months and have no idea what is happening outside. We hope that the [Syrian] regime responds as soon as possible and releases the detainees so we can leave this place.”

“We have a right to live, just like those being held by the regime,” she concludes.

The video, which was released over a month and half after its filming, stirred a wave of discontent and calls for the government to take serious measures to free the remaining captives out of 136 abducted or missing people. In May 2014, 40 hostages were released as part of the ceasefire agreement in the Old City of Homs, which stipulates the evacuation of militants from the Old City in exchange for the release of 30 Syrian army soldiers and 15 abducted women and children from the northern countryside of Latakia in a first batch, followed by 25 others in a second batch. The kidnappers acknowledged that 85 people remain in their custody, after the death of three old women. Three other elderly captives were released in March 2014.

The video brought to mind the bloody summer of 2013, particularly August 4, the day on which al-Nusra Front and Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants raided 11 villages in the northern countryside of Latakia from the Kurd and Turkmen mountains adjacent to the Turkish borders, in a battle dubbed, “Operation Liberation of the Coast.”

Thousands of militants spread across the villages of Hambouchi, Barouda, Balouta, Obin, Istarba, Bayt Shkouhi, Abou Makka, Barmasa, Kharata, Nabata, and Talla. They raided houses, slaughtered scores of civilians, and kidnapped many others. This bloody day stayed in the memory of survivors, who were able to escape and hide in the woods, before the Syrian Army entered the villages and saved them. The battle resulted in the death of 400 people and the kidnapping of 136 others.

Father George Hawch, head of priests in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, spoke to Al-Akhbar about a committee headed by the governor of Latakia, tasked with communicating with the families of the abductees and militant leaders to negotiate their release. These efforts did not yield any results, since the militants stipulated the release of their prisoners in exchange for the abductees, a condition rejected by the Syrian government.

“Negotiations with leaders of militant groups have been ongoing for over four months to release the captives and reach a comprehensive settlement,” said Father Hawsh. He noted that “the negotiations are difficult, because when the kidnappers show collaboration on certain issues, they soon back out, as if the decision was not in their hands.”

According to Hawsh, the only achievement was the ability to communicate with the families of FSA militants in Latakia, and encourage them to reach out to and educate their children. “We stressed on the former years of neighborly and friendly relations, and encouraged them to play an active role in order to save their children from the abyss of murder and violence. Perhaps then, they would come to their senses.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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