200 Hostages Freed in Shi’ite, Sunni Militia Trade

Deal Aims at Calming Tensions Between Villages in Idlib Province

by Jason Ditz, February 22, 2013

More than 200 hostages taken in Idlib Province over the past few weeks have been freed today, after Shi’ite and Sunni militias in the region came to an agreement to trade their respective captives.

The hostage takings reflect the rising sectarian unrest in Syria as the ongoing civil war takes on an increasingly religious tone. Militias from Sunni and Shi’ite villages in Idlib began taking hostages, and then taking more in retaliation for the first ones, with each insisting the other side started it.

The first major kidnapping appears to have been on February 14, however, when a busload of Shi’ites from Idlib were kidnapped. Shi’ite villagers responded by attacking nearby Sunni villages and making off with captives of their own.

Locals say that Idlib Province rarely saw sectarian tension before the civil war, and that the elders of the various villages remain on good terms, which was apparently the key to negotiating the hostage swap today.

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