Syrians criticize Assad regime's detainee swaps

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 11 (UPI) -- The Syrian government has come under criticism from its supporters over its uneven efforts to secure the release of detainees held by rebel forces.

The latest incident to spark anger from Syrian citizens was the release Sunday of 13 Lebanese nuns and three female helpers in exchange for females being held by the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, the (Beirut) Daily Star reported.


The nuns, who were freed with the help of Qatar and the reported payment of a ransom, had been held by the Nusra Front since early December.

The exchange left regime supporters expressing their frustration at the release of foreign detainees while Syrians, many of them members of the minority Alawite sect, remain in rebel hands, the Lebanese newspaper said.

"We all followed the main news item, the liberation of the nuns of Maaloula, on the world's television screens ... . But you freed people who said thank you to the Nusra Front," one person from the Alawite town of Salhab commented on a pro-regime Facebook page.

"There is a question that must be answered: What happened to the women and children kidnapped in rural Latakia? What happened to the hundreds of women and children kidnapped from [the Damascus suburb of] Adra?


"I don't want to speak in sectarian terms ... but around 70 media outlets headed for the Syrian border to film the release of the nuns, who forgot to thank the [Syrian] leadership and the [Syrian] army. Tomorrow, the world will be talking about them, and thanking Qatar, the Vatican and the Kremlin, and half the world."

The exchange came after the Assad regime secured the release of nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in October and more than a year after 48 Iranian nationals were turned over by the rebels in exchange for hundreds of Syrians held by the regime for suspected anti-government activities, the Daily Star noted.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the latest exchange prompted "huge outrage" in Alawite-majority areas because the government "in many cases refuses swap deals for kidnapped Alawite civilians."

The London group also noted the government had previously refused to exchange detainees for four Alawite non-commissioned officers being held by rebels in Deir al-Zor, even after the rebels lowered their demand from 200 detainees to 50.

"It seems that for the regime, Hezbollah and the Iranians are more important than our children," the Observatory said was the reaction of the detainees' families.


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