Hostages freed in trade with Syrian rebels

Feb. 4, 2013 at 9:55 AM

DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Two Russians and an Italian held hostage in Syria by rebel forces were freed in exchange for captured rebels, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday.

The three men were taken hostage Dec. 12 while on their way to Tartus, the site of a Russian naval base in the violence-torn country, RIA Novosti reported.

The Russian hostages, Viktor Gorelov and Abdessattar Khassun, were delivered to the Russian Embassy in Damascus and were described by the ministry as "in good health and feel well."

The Italian, Merio Belluomo, was to be handed over to Italian officials, the ministry said.

The rebels had earlier demanded a ransom of more than $700,000 for the men's release.

In earlier reports, Russian officials said the men were working at a steel plant.

Syria has been mired in a conflict between rebel forces and the regime of President Bashar Assad since March 2011. Tens of thousands of people have died.

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