Russian and Italian Hostages Freed in Syria

MOSCOW, February 4 (RIA Novosti) – One Italian and two Russian hostages have been released in Syria in exchange for captured rebel fighters, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

“The Russians have been already delivered to Russia’s embassy in Damascus. They are in good health and feel well. They have been offered the chance to get in touch with their relatives,” the ministry said in a statement, but did not give more detail about how and when the men were freed.

Belluomo will be handed over out to Italian officials, the ministry said.

The two Russians, Viktor Gorelov and Abdessattar Khassun, and Italian Merio Belluomo were taken hostage on December 12 by Syrian rebels while on their way from Homs to Tartus, the home of a Russian naval base.

In earlier statements, Russian officials said the three were working at the Hmisho and Co steel plant. According to media reports, the rebels had earlier demanded a ransom of over $700,000 for their release, but the Foreign Ministry statement made no mention of any payment.

Gorelov, who came to Syria in October, is Russian, while Khassun has dual Russian-Syrian citizenship.

Syria has been locked in a 22-month civil war since March 2011, in which at least 60,000 people have been killed, according to UN figures released in January.


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