Middle East

Syria 'releases female prisoners in hostage deal'

Frame from Al-Jazeera video purported to show freed Syrian women (24/10/13)
Image caption Al-Jazeera broadcast footage said to show the freed women

At least 61 female prisoners have been released by the Syrian government in one of the final stages of a complex three-way hostage deal, reports say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the government of President President Bashar al-Assad had freed them over the last two days.

Al-Jazeera broadcast footage of what it said were some of them being released.

Meanwhile electricity is slowly returning to Damascus after a rebel attack on a gas pipeline.

The attack caused widespread power cuts and set off a huge blaze near the city's international airport. The northern city of Aleppo and the central city of Homs were also affected.

Conflict spreading

There has been no immediate comment from Syrian officials in relation to the reported releases, nor are there any details as to who the women are or where they are now located.

Image caption The attack on the gas pipeline east of Damascus caused a huge fireball visible for miles

The UK-based SOHR said the releases were part of a hostage swap last week brokered by Qatar and the Palestinian Authority.

It resulted in nine Lebanese citizens - who were reportedly being held in northern Syria by fighters from a Sunni-based rebel group opposed to President Assad - being released on Sunday.

The rebels insisted their hostages were fighters with the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, and were demanding the release of women detainees in exchange.

Lebanese gunmen also freed two Turkish pilots on Sunday as part of the three-way deal.

Officials in Lebanon say that a third part was the release of the women.

Correspondents say that the involvement of Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Qatar and the Palestinian Authority in the deal showed the extent to which the crisis in Syria - now in its third year - has spread across the wider region.

It is clear that huge effort has gone into producing the complicated deal, correspondents say.

The Syrian conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives and created more than two million refugees.

While the war rages on the hostage exchange creates a small glimmer of hope, correspondents say, as efforts intensify to arrange a peace conference in Geneva next month.