Middle East

Syria crisis: Kidnapped Kurds freed by Islamist rebels

A general view of the Kurdish city of Afrin, in Aleppo's countryside on 18 March 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The men were seized from a convoy of buses at a checkpoint near the town of Afrin

Islamist rebel fighters have released some 300 Kurdish men taken captive and held for hours in northwest Syria.

Reports say the men were seized from buses travelling from the town of Afrin to the city of Aleppo.

Officials from the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) have blamed Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) for the kidnapping but this has not been confirmed.

The Kurdish hostages were released in an alleged prisoner exchange.

Reports said the men had been held in a town in Idlib province.

A spokesman for the PYD said that the kidnappers had demanded the release of three rebel members detained by the Kurds in Afrin.

The Kurdish men had been taken from a convoy of buses forced to stop at a checkpoint on the way to Aleppo. A group of women and children were said to have been allowed to go free.

The PYD implicated the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) in the kidnapping but it is only one of a number of Islamic rebel factions operating in the area.

The al-Nusra Front is active in the region. It helped capture the city of Idlib from government forces at the end of March.

Idlib is only the second provincial centre to fall into rebel hands, after Raqqa was seized by Islamic State (IS).

Syria's bloody conflict, which has entered its fifth year, has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Syrians.

The battle between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, rebels opposed to his rule and jihadist militants from IS has driven more than 11 million people from their homes.